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Just in case you needed any more evidence Freedom House are complete, utter prostitutes.


This is about a country where journalists speaking out against mobilization are getting arrested, anti-regime sites get taken down by the secret services, far right thugs raid leftist and anti-Maidan newspapers, and an officially sanctioned website lists the names and addresses of anti-regime “terrorists and propagandists,” who are steadily committing “suicide” or getting openly and unshamedly offed, like the late Oles Buzina.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Junta, Media, Ukraine 
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In response to Putin’s (in)famous NYT op-ed, McCain told CNN he’d love to reciprocate on Pravda. He was probably surprised when they agreed to it – but he may not have gotten quite what he expected, according to’s chief Vadim Gorshenin.

“McCain Looked for a Kremlin Mouthpiece, and was not Mistaken”

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Internet-media holding Vadim Gorshenin on why the American Senator published his article on his site, and not in the “Soviet newspaper.”

On Thursday, the site published an article by Senator John McCain, in which he replied to Russian President Putin’s publication in The New York Times. Initially, McCain promised to publish an article in Pravda, but he later changed his mind. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Vadim Gorshenin sat down with an Izvestia correspondent to tell us how it all happened.

Mikhail Rubin: Who suggested you publish McCain’s article, and when?

Vadim Gorshenin: It was a Foreign Policy journalist, he reads us and even writes lots of nasty things about us. When he heard McCain on CNN saying that he wanted to speak out at the Pravda newspaper, he wrote the following to the editor of our English-language version Dmitry Sudakov: “Could you refute the idea that you have no freedom of speech, and publish McCain’s text?” He replied that yes, of course he could. After this, the American journalist contacted McCain’s press secretary, who said that they’d follow through with all this. And it all ended up just as Mikhail Dvorkovich wrote on Twitter – the very fact of publication proves that everything that McCain wrote is a lie. If all the Russian media is controlled by the Kremlin, then how could such an article have appeared on what everyone calls a pro-Kremlin site?

MK: Did they understand, that and the newspaper Pravda are two different publications?

VG: Yes, of course they understood. There have even been articles in the American MSM that analyzed the nature of the newspaper Pravda today. When this entire scandal flared up and Zyuganov got the impression that McCain was going to write something for his newspaper, McCain’s aides asked us whether we were somehow associated with the newspaper Pravda.

MK: Well, are you?

VG: There is a ten year old court judgment to the effect that we have the same rights to the symbols and the name “Pravda” as the Communist Party newspaper. But the most important thing is that we have an English-language version, which has the second highest visitors’ numbers after Russia Today out of all Russian English-language MSM. Furthermore, our daily traffic is at 200,000, whereas the newspaper Pravda’s circulation is at 100,000 – and it only comes out a few times per week.

MK: And why did the article first appear on the feeds of the world’s news agencies, and only later at your site? They weren’t satisfied by your traffic numbers?

VG: They sent us their article today at 6am. And they gave it to the agencies under an embargo until 8am, in fact McCain’s people didn’t even warn us of this. They believe that Russians get up at 6am and immediately go to work under a barrage of whiplashes. We only managed to finalize everything by 10am.

MK: The Americans weren’t discomfited by the ideological component? You were, after all, Dmitry Medvedev’s confidante in the 2008 elections. And you are a Putin supporter.

VG: Yes, I’m a Putin supporter. But I wasn’t a confidante, I just worked in Medvedev’s HQ in 2008, for which he awarded me something, and in Putin’s HQ in 2012 – he too sent me a thank you letter. But this didn’t give the Americans any unease, to the contrary in fact.

MK: Why? McCain wanted to publish an article on a site that supporters Putin?

VG: McCain still lives in that era. What do they remember about Soviet times? “Pravda” and “Izvestia,” that’s what. In fact Izvestia was less well-known, because it was released for internal consumption, while Pravda was the Kremlin’s mouthpiece. And McCain wanted an article in a newspaper that was a Kremlin mouthpiece. Because Putin had published an article in The New York Times, the newspaper of the Democratic Party – they President now rules the US. McCain wanted the same, and in this sense, he was not mistaken.

Reader comments

Alexander Bocha: Everybody, calm down. McCain is a very old person – he is 77 years old, and he DOESN’T speak for all America!!! Many people in the US appreciate, love, and respect Russia – let’s stop the hysteria and extremism, ladies and gentlemen!

Андрей Карпиловский: While Putin quite accurately threw a philosophical rock at Obama, McCain just emptied a pail of dirt willy-nilly either on Putin, or on Russia, or on himself. And these people want to ban us from fingering our noses? I don’t think they’ll succeed at anything. They work stupidly.

сергей евсеев: What else can you expect from someone who was imprisoned for a year in a hole up to his neck in excrement. Even the article reeks.

Альберт Сыроежкин: McCain is a Cold War dinosaur who has lost his bearings and repeats the ramblings of cheap agitators of CIA-inspired nonsense of the 1960s and 70s.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Battle of the hacks! In response to Alexei Pankin calling him an anti-Semite in The Moscow Times, Oleg Kashin pens a tongue in cheek response telling him to imagine a kitten dying every time he abuses an overworn cliche.

On the Horrors of Anti-Semitism

In which Oleg Kashin gives some advice to the politologists.

The editors asked me to reply to a columnist in the English-language Moscow Times who accused Svobodnaya Pressa of – wow, wow! – anti-Semitism. I don’t even know how to object to this dear fellow – I love the way he holds that pipe in his mouth in his avatar; as for the rest of his remarks, I will only recycle what one of my friends has already noted: The Jewish question in Russia ended when those standard (which is to say, fascist) ads for apartment rentals marked “For Slavs only” started to encompass Jews, together with Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. This was unimaginable even back in 1990 – you know, the era of Pamyat, and all that. Today – be my guest! Even the lumpenproles, ready at take part in some ethnic cleansing at the first opportunity, no longer consider Jews to be foreigners. In reality, it’s stupid to ponder on the differences between Ivan and Abram when Dagestan is in the foreground; those differences are negligible.

If there was any “social thought” whatsoever in the Russian Federation, beyond what we see at Svobodnaya Pressa and at one and a half other sites, there would have long been a flood of books, lectures, exhibitions, and films meditating upon the end of Russian anti-Semitism. But social thought, sucking away on his pipe, prefers to flog 20-year old stereotypes, whose authenticity somewhat resembles Intourist stories about bears and balalaikas.

Every time I have to speak before some foreign audience – well, not even “some” audience, but one that is prepared, and interested in Russian affairs – I am forced to answer questions about the threat of a Communist comeback in my country, about Moscow’s repressive policies towards the Chechen people, and even about the possibility that Russia could try to reconquer the Baltic countries. Patiently answering these questions (“No, ladies and gentlemen, the Communist Party is part of the political system”; “Excuse me, but Mr. Kadyrov himself represses whomsoever he wants”; “If they attack Europe, they will have nowhere to keep their money”), I can see despondency in the eyes of my interlocutors – they do not believe me, because the word of some unknown Russian can’t outweigh the terabytes of nonsense issued by all these veterans of the Valdai Clubs and Pugwash Conferences from both sides of their mutually beloved Iron Curtain.

Though it’s too late to do anything about Alexander Rahr or Nikolai Zlobin, I would however like to give some friendly politological advice to their less famous colleagues, who are easier to recognize by pipe than by name. Friends, next time you’re about to reproduce your typical analytical klyukva – imagine that a little kitten dies somewhere in Russia. Imagine that the kitten dies because he simply can’t bear to watch how credulous English-language readers are fed tales of Russia’s unreadiness for democracy, the popularity of “Ethnic Slurs” among the Russian opposition, and similar bears and balalaikas. Don’t think about about visitor views, reposts, and honorariums – think of the kittens. Maybe this will seem like an unserious argument to you, but it is surely – for all that – a more serious one than what you’re scribbling.

Mazel tov, friends!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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On 9 February, 2013 the Deputy Minister for Communications schooled Moscow State journalism students in the “propaganda model.” They were none too thrilled about the lesson, as Natalia Romashkova writes.

Deputy Minister of Communications Volin explains Media-Business Relations

The Deputy Minister for Communications and Mass Media Alexey Volin explained the heated reactions to his speech at Moscow State University by the deep chasm in opinions between academic circles and the journalist community. The previous day, Volin said that student journalists should understand that they were going to be “working for the Man,” who will determine what they will write about and how.

“Suffice to say that I was trying to explain how the media works through the market mechanism, but the liberal audience didn’t like that. It happens,” the Deputy Minister told RIA Novosti on Monday. “The serious public interest in this matter is related to the fact that there is, unfortunately, a very big gap between academia’s perceptions of the media market and the journalist profession, and what’s really going on there.”

The official’s comments came in the wake of a furious reaction to his speech on Sunday at a scientific-practical conference organized by the Journalism Faculty of Moscow State University. In particular, Alexey Volin claimed that the journalist had “no duty to make the world better, to carry the light of truth to lead mankind down the right path.” “We need to clearly teach students that they will go to work for the Man, and the Man will tell them what to write, what not to write, and how to write about such and such, and the Man has this right because he pays them,” Volin expounded, characterizing the relations between media owners and journalists.

The main point of the speech, according to Alexey Volin himself, was the wish to demonstrate that the mainstream media is a business, which needs commercial success to survive and develop. “Everything else is merely a logical consequence. But this often meets either misunderstanding, or objections from those people who teach students, or consider themselves experts on the media market.”

The Russian Union of Journalists criticizied Alexey Volin’s speech: “The defaming of journalism, and belittlement of its role, is a time-honored technique of political technology, well known to every graduate of a journalism faculty. His overriding goal is to hide the truth from the public, to gloss over the real picture, and to stymie solutions of real problems.”

You should keep in mind that you are a journalist, not a whore. The difference can be difficult to discern, but it exists nonetheless.

- Ilya Stogov (Saint-Petersburg writer and journalist, “Tabloid: A manual on yellow journalism).
(Republished from Russia Voices by permission of author or representative)
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In a comment for popular Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Anatoly Karlin compares media freedoms – or the lack thereof – in Russia and the “free” West. There is a longer version of this article at Da Russophile.

Recently the French human rights organization Reporters Without Borders unveiled new press freedom ratings, which showed Russia sinking to 148th place out of 179 globally.

This finding is consistent with the yearly ratings of the American organization Freedom House, which deems the Russian media to be “not free.” In contrast, the Western countries are, of course, at the top of this list. But personally, as a regular reader of the mass media from both sides of the Information Curtain, I have long been under the strong impression that the Western intelligentsia – including the creators of all these ratings – often consider that the only “free” and “independent” media outlets in Russia are those which support their own ideas and prejudices, and that when compiling their ratings they lean exclusively on the opinions of their like-minded colleagues.

Yes, there really are cases in which the voices of “democratic journalists” in Russia are suppressed. For instance, to take a recent incident, after the recent elections Kommersant Vlast published a photo of an election ballot with an obscene scrawling about Putin. The newspaper’s owner quickly fired those responsible.

Harsh? Maybe, but there is a wealth of similar examples in the West. For insulting the recent US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accidentally caught on open mic, the journalist David Chalian was fired from Yahoo News. One can compile an entire list of journalists who were fired for criticizing the state of Israel: Sunni Khalid, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, etc. Likewise there is another substantial list of journalists fired for attending Occupy Wall Street protests.

I do not want to idealize the state of the Russian press, which has a huge number of its own problems. For instance, writing about Putin’s private life is just about as big of a taboo, as is criticizing Israel in the US. And the situation as regards unsolved murders of journalists is far worse than in the West. Although, that said, it is far better than in quite a number of widely acknowledged democracies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, and Turkey – all of which have substantially higher freedom ratings than Russia.

But the Americans too have some things to be “proud” of. American “dissidents” such as Hearst Newspapers journalist Helen Thomas and former professor Norman Finkelstein are not only fired, but also put on blacklists, which not only complicates getting access to high-ranking officials but even of finding another job. Meanwhile, in “baleful Russia”, the American journalist Masha Gessen can publish a book about Putin titled “The Man Without a Face” and get a personal interview with the President regardless. She is then free to practically demonize him in an account of their meeting in the journal Bolshoi Gorod – and to then go on to head the Russian service of Radio Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is headquartered minutes away from the walls of the Kremlin.

So in some sense Russia still has many, many steps still to climb up the stairs of the press freedom ratings…

The original publication: Вверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы (Анатолий Карлин, Комсомольская Правда). 1 February, 2013.

(Republished from Russia Voices by permission of author or representative)
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So Assange has fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, in scenes reminiscent of what happens to dissidents in truly authoritarian countries. (The parallels keep adding up don’t they).

Let’s recap. His site kept releasing classified documents, from secretive and typically nasty organizations. Too bad that some of them belonged to the Pentagon and the State Department; otherwise, no doubt Assange would still be feted as a heroic whistleblower in the West. Instead, he got an extradition request to Sweden for a rape at about the same time as Cablegate; a “rape” in which the purported victim tweeted about what a great guy he was the morning after (the tweet has since been deleted, of course). One of the supposed victims had posted online tips for girls on filing false rape reports on men who dumped them (this too has since been wiped).

Now Sweden is in Assange’s words “the Saudi Arabia of feminism” and indeed that much is undeniable to any reasonable person who doesn’t derive pleasure from slavishly kowtowing to women. See their recent attempts to ban men from pissing upright because apparently it is an assertion of patriarchy. And which other country could have produced a bestseller like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which would have instantly been condemned as misogynist claptrap had the slurs against men in it been instead been directed towards women? So even in the best possible interpretation it is Swedish feminists running amok in Europe, much like their Viking forefathers did a millennium ago. The alternative explanation is that this is politically motivated.

The balance of probabilities indicates that it probably is, with Swedish rape laws being used as a cover to repress Western dissidents. (Much like NATO uses leashed Islamist radicals to promote crusader hegemony in the Middle East). Although Sweden is considered to be a shining liberal democracy, the reality falls far short of that ideal as explained by Glenn Greenwald:

In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of aceeding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.

These concerns are entirely rational because there has been an accumulating body of evidence indicating that the US has a sealed indictment against Assange. For instance, according to a Fred Burton (VP of Stratfor) email from this January, exposed in an Anonymous hack of the organization:

“Not for Pub – We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

One can only imagine what Hillary Clinton discussed in her recent weekling visit to Sweden, the first such high-ranking American visit since 1976, to meet the Swedish neocon Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and other important Swedish functionaries.

And with only two weeks left at most since his extradition to Sweden, with all legal channels exhausted after the UK’s supreme court ruled 5-2 against his petition, it is of course understandable why Assange would want to claim political asylum in a country that is outside the Western imperial orbit (if still susceptible to its pressure). It’s basic self-preservation, not – as many blowhards argue – some perverted desire to escape “justice” for his sexual crimes.

Whither now? It is hard to tell. The US has a lot of clout and may well force Ecuador to surrender Assange to Scotland Yard. To some extent it seems like a dead end. Is it really possible for him to spent years within the Ecuadorian Embassy? The British police can’t legally enter it, but nor can Assange move anywhere, not even by helicopter or something (since that would require crossing British airspace). An “understanding” will have to be reached between Britain and Ecuador, as happened between Britain’s return of the Lockerbie Bomber to Libya in exchange for greater access to Libyan oilfields on the part of British oil corporations. Needless to say Ecuador has no such clout.

As usual, what I found most interesting was the media reaction to all this.

* The Guardian’s loathsome effort was Ecuador’s free speech record at odds with Julian Assange’s bid for openness. I.e., the Guardianista bastards pretend to give a fuck about Assange after their writers David Leigh and Luke Harding backstabbed Assange in one of the lowest ways possible, accusing Assange of revealing the passcodes to the unedited cables when it was they themselves who did it. At the same time they use the opportunity to crap all over Ecuador, only now deciding to notice some issues with freedom of speech rights even just a half year ago they’d written that Ecuador could be “the most radical and exciting place on earth”. Obviously, the Guardianista hate for Assange takes precedence over a brief fling with Ecuadorian policies on nature rights and tree-hugging.

* Western commentators are divided into two camps: One, and a majority I’d say, has swallowed the Kool Aid and rails for Assange to be arrested (even though that’s against international law), to “face the music”, to be assassinated, for Ecuador and his “buddies” in Bolivia and Venezuela to be bombed, etc. They also rant that if Assange had done this to Russia or China he’d have long since gone for an extended swim with the fishes, which they use to “prove” that Assange is an anti-Western fanatic; however, their frustration that the US doesn’t do something similar to what they imagine Russia or China would do is palpable. The other half sees it as the politically motivated issue that it almost certainly is.

* Russian commentary on this is far more cynical, even on liberal sites. About 80% believe it is politically motivated, and that the West too – like Russia – prosecutes dissent when it overreaches certain boundaries. Some even argue that it demonstrates Russia is more democratic than the West – after all, has anything happened to Navalny? Another 20% or so, that is liberals, buy wholly into the Establishment version that Assange is a sex predator who hates Western civilization and should be extradited to America ASAP. No doubt these folks are also the ones dreaming of “lustrations” once the Putin regime falls.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
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In the fourth part of my series comparing Russia, Britain, and the US, I turn my attention to aspects of their politics, including: markets and freedom; media independence; the role of “dissident” voices, billionaires, and corruption; and Internet culture. Some people – perhaps Kremlinologists in particular – will no doubt be surprised by my conclusion that there are far more similarities than differences.

Politics & Democracy

In the US, there are two main parties that form a “bipartisan consensus” on most of the truly important topics. Both parties are beholden to corporate interests (Democrats more Wall Street; Republicans more Big Oil). Obama’s foreign policy is no real change from that of the later Bush administration. The political and mass media establishment is more than happy to criticize foreign countries for human rights abuses, real or perceived – especially those they dislike, like Russia or Venezuela – while similar or identical things happen in the US itself. A good example is the criticism towards the breakup of unsanctioned Russian political protests, which have exact parallels in the US; just as I was writing this post, 100 antiwar activists and 35 Bradley Manning supporters were arrested.

(The double standards thing is every bit as prevalent in the UK too, by the way. For a good summary see this article by Mark Sleboda.)

There is a strong “culture war” element to US politics, with a strong liberal vs. conservative struggle on hot issues such as global warming, the power of unions, gun rights and abortion. The US also has far more direct democracy at the state level than either the UK, not to mention Russia. For instance, when California needs to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana or gay marriage, it consults the voters; in most of the rest of the world, the decision is left to unelected “experts”.

Though it has three major parties, the sphere of political opinion is even narrower in the UK than in the US. On most issues, the Tories/Lib Dems and Labour can all be arraigned within the confines of the Democratic Party. There is, at least, a real difference in views on social rights (e.g. abortion; environmental protection; etc) between the Democrats and Republicans, whereas it is hard to distinguish even these differences between New Labour and the Conservatives. Effectively fringe movements, like the Green Party or the nationalist BNP, have slightly more formal political power than in the US through their own parties. Such pressure movements in both the US (e.g. the Tea Party) and Russia (e.g. the DPNI; greens; liberals) tend to exert political influence through the Establishment (respectively, the two-party system and the Kremlin).

The political consensus in Russia is represented by the Kremlin (with its tightly interlinked political, security and oligarchic elites) and its “party of power” (United Russia). But in contrast to the USSR, modern Russia has no real ideology beyond the national interest and vague allusions to its Great Power traditions (derzhavnost’). Its political economy is a melange of traditional Muscovite patrimonialism, Gaullist statism, and even libertarian elements like the flat tax. Its political space is much wider than in the Anglosphere, ranging from right-wing liberals to the (unreformed) Communist Party; but this is of little account, since the old ideological struggles, e.g. the Slavophiles vs. the Westernizers (Tsarism), or the Communists vs. the liberals (1990′s), are now over. The current system is best characterized as a Kremlin-moderated debate, carried on between different personalities and factions, about how to best modernize Russia, and the pace and extent of liberalization.

The two major factions, or “Kremlin clans“, are the siloviki and the civiliki. The siloviki, or “power people”, are typically men drawn from the security agencies – primarily the FSB and Interior Ministry – whose fortunes rose with the ascension of Putin to power. Their unofficial leader is Igor Sechin. The civiliki are composed of economically-liberal economists, lawyers and technocrats, as well as the Anti-Narcotics Agency and GRU military intelligence, who form a loose coalition around Dmitry Medvedev, the current President. There is also a third grouping who owe allegiance directly to Putin, most prominently Vladislav Surkov, who is the chief ideologue (e.g. inventing the term “sovereign democracy”).

Though Putin’s position as PM is formally weaker than the President’s, this is counterbalanced by his leadership of the party of power, United Russia. Some analysts regard Putin as the most powerful man in Russia, with Medvedev a distant second, third after Sechin, or even a puppet. I think that each member of the ruling “tandem” has about equal power, with Sechin a distant third. It is certainly a mistake to see the dispute between the two factions – to the extent that one exists, as there is also a lot of cooperation – as a kind of struggle between democracy / transparency / markets vs. authoritarianism / corruption / statism. The relations between these “clans” are largely symbiotic, not confrontational.

Garry Kasparov, leading Russian liberal, meeting with Georgian President Saakashvili, after Russia fought a war with him in 2008. I'm sure things like this do wonders for the liberals' popularity.

Garry Kasparov, leading Russian liberal, meeting with Georgian President Saakashvili, after Russia fought a war with him in 2008. I’m sure things like this do wonders for the liberals’ popularity.

One common but totally misguided characterization of Russian politics is that of an authoritarian Kremlin (brutally) suppressing the liberal opposition. Only in their own fantasies. The liberals’ proud association with the 1990′s and its accouterments (e.g. mass impoverishment under the liberal reforms; criminal oligarchs; etc), lack of constructive solutions (their slogans are pretty much limited to “Putin Must Go!” and variations thereof) and worshipful adulation of everything “European” or “Western” as “civilized” (as opposed to attacks on Russia, or “Rashka” as they like to call it, as irredeemably corrupt and barbaric) filters down their support base to about 5% of the population. (Though that doesn’t stop them from presenting themselves as the genuine voice of the Russian people, especially to credulous Western journalists). There’s no FSB bogeymen or Kremlin “web brigades” marginalizing the Russian liberals; they do it well enough by themselves.

It should also be stressed that the real opposition, to the extent that one exists, aren’t the aforementioned liberals but the Communists. The former have the support of 5% of the population; the latter have the support of 25%. Main problem is that pensioners marching with red flags aren’t quite as photogenic and chic to Western journalists as the airbrushed representatives of the liberal movements.

For a fuller explanation, I highly recommend these articles: A Short Overview of Russian Political Discourse (“kovane”); On The Politics Of Russia (Alexandre Latsa); The Kremlinologist Catechism (yours truly).

For “political freedom indices”, most of which (e.g. Freedom House) aren’t worth the bandwidth they take up, I think the Polity IV is the most accurate. (Not to mention my own Karlin Freedom Index).

Myth: Russia Is A Dictatorship

Several times in the US, I’ve been asked what I think of the “Russian dictator Vladimir Putin”. I don’t like getting into old arguments, so my usual response is a demurral that I’m not interested in politics. But in reality the very question is pretty laughable to me. The Internet is completely uncensored. There are many articles in the major newspapers that are deeply critical of the government, and two major media outlets are run by the liberals who do little else (Novaya Gazeta & Echo of Moscow; the latter, by the way, is owned by state company Gazprom). You can complain, shout or publish pretty much anything you want about how corrupt, tyrannical or treasonous Russia’s leaders are (and it’s not just the liberals who do it; nationalist / far-right rhetoric is even more hysterical, flaying the Kremlin for selling out Russia by allowing in dark-skinned Gastarbeiters). This is not to say that the Russian government never abuses the rights of its citizens or acts in stupid and/or counterproductive ways against these “dissidents”; you can find dozens of examples of this, such as the deaths in pre-trial detention of a lawyer investigating police corruption or the police confiscating copies of Boris Nemtsov’s screed against the the “Putin regime”. But if occasional corrupt and ham-fisted actions like this made Russia an authoritarian dictatorship it would have virtually every other country in the world for company.

The US also has its “dissidents”, ranging from the edges of the Establishment (e.g. Ron Paul, James Hansen) to complete outsiders (e.g. anti-globalization; antiwar; anarchist). But it hardly makes the front page news in the US when they’re put on “domestic terrorist” watch lists, their houses are raided, or their protests broken up. Generally speaking, you can only find out about that kind of stuff on alternate news media and the exceedingly rich American blogosphere.

A Quick Note On Putin Himself

The current PM has managed to maintain an approval rating of 70%+ for the past decade, which is almost unheard of for a leader in the UK or the US. Some argue that it’s because the state media creates a cult around him (some liberals refer to his young supporters as Putlerjugend), others because of some ingrained Russian yearning for a “strong hand”. Largely, I think he’s popular because he’s essentially a moderate conservative who is associated with uncontroversial values such as stability, patriotism, and rising incomes; the theory about government propaganda creating Putinoid drones is undermines by the fact that he is as popular amongst the young and university-educated (i.e. they have Internet access and many know English) as he is amongst pensioners (i.e. who generally rely on TV for news). But my favorite explanation is the one offered by Cracked: that he’s the craziest badass!

Socialism and Markets

Many Americans and British are concerned, even disturbed, by the reemergence of the Russian state as a central player in society and the economy. But this is to project British and American mentalities, in which the state has traditionally played a subsidiary role, to Russia, whose experience has been entirely different: a state (gosudarstvo) that has always been at the forefront of modernization; and a state that has guaranteed Russia’s security against numerous invaders down the centuries (whereas the US and Britain haven’t been successfully invaded since 1066, and whose citizens have come to view their own states as potentially the greatest threat to their rights and liberties).

But not only are Russians accustomed to viewing their state as having a far greater and more central role than in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but they also underwent a far deeper collapse in state power than experienced in either the US or the UK for at least the past century; during the 1990′s, the salaries of state workers went unpaid for months, and elementary state prerogatives such as the monopoly on violence and on money creation slipped out of its control. After such travails, no doubt the Americans and British too would have pined for the return of a strong state*.

* I found a poll a few days ago that pretty much confirms this. In the wake of the economic crash and bank bailouts, the percentage of Americans believing in the free market economy as the best system fell to 59% by 2010 (from 71% in 2005), compared with 55% of Britons (from 66%) and 52% of Russians (up from 43%). It’s telling that after just three years of economic turmoil, Americans are barely more pro-free market than Russians who lived through 70 years of socialism, followed by a decade of hyper-depression and a decade of pretty fast growth under a market economy.

Politics is rarely a topic for conversation in the US or Britain, unless its on Facebook, and the number of ideological positions one can “respectably” take is far more circumscribed than in Russia. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to call oneself a Communist or a Marxist; not surprising, since 15-20% of the population votes for them. Doing so in the UK will not endear you to polite society, while in the US it is hurled around as a term of abuse in political discourse. Actually admitting to being a socialist, let alone a Communist, will get you shunned in most American circles. It’s pretty hilarious to see the Republicans painting Obama as a radical leftist, when in much of Europe he’d be regarded as a corporatist centrist.

The Weird Ideological Alliance Between Far Right Republicans And Russian Liberals

There is a surprisingly strong affinity between the Tea Party and Russia’s liberals, the main exception being that the former are far more mainstream. Some 28% of US adults call themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement, whereas Russia’s liberals have at most 5% (being generous). Both dislike big government, have 19th century conceptions of what liberalism is about (emphasizing free enterprise, private property, etc). Illarionov, the libertarian economist who fell out with Putin, is also a Tea Partier and has protested in the US against Obama’s healthcare reforms and condemned the Kyoto Protocols. Another prominent Russian liberal, Latynina, believes global warming is a scam to enrich or empower “the global bureaucracy” and supports disenfranchising poor Russians. Yet another, Novodvorskaya, supports Westerners bombing undemocratic and uncivilized Third World countries. No wonder, then, that Russian “liberals” find so much common cause with the nuttier elements of the Republican Party.

Why do these rightist views have much bigger support in the US? Quite simply, the majority of Russians – about 70% of them, according to opinion polls – are essentially statists, who believe the state has a duty to extensively interfere in the economy to protect the weak and assure everyone a safety net. That is similar to attitudes in Europe. The US, in contrast, has a starkly different political culture that has traditionally stressed values such as self-reliance, asperity, the “self-made man”, the “free enterprise system”, etc; which don’t work, at least nowadays, nearly as well as the rhetoric of their proponents. One consequence of this is that there is a far greater degree of “false consciousness” in the US than in Russia.


Glaring divisions of wealth are far more evident in Russia and America. Whereas the UK has 33 billionaires for 61 million people, Russia has 101 billionaires for 143 million and the US has 412 billionaires for 308 million people.

Furthermore, whereas the British affluent stress Weberian values of keeping a low and modest profile, many American billionaires enjoy a cult-like status (Bill Gates; Warren Buffet; Steve Jobs…) and Russian oligarchs flaunt their wealth with absolute abandon.

This makes some Russians bitter, since most of the Russian billionaires obtained their assets in the anarchic 1990′s through shady, dubious, and semi-legal (at best) ways; in contrast, US billionaires are either self-made or inherited their wealth. However, the more common sentiment amongst younger people isn’t so much hatred or envy but a desire to emulate them (what that says about their values I’ll leave to you).

One factor that probably diminishes Russians’ ill feeling about the wealth of the oligarchs is that – to a far greater extent than in the West – they are now firmly under the Kremlin’s thumb. Their property rights aren’t secure, as in the West; instead, they are conditional on their political loyalty and their help in maintaining social stability. E.g.,

  • Roman Abramovich funded infrastructure and social services as governor of the remote region of Chukotka from out of his own pocket.
  • Viktor Vekselberg repatriated imperial-era art objects, including luxury Fabergé eggs – created for the Tsars and taken out of the country after the Revolution – and loaned them to Russian state museums.
  • They are expected to maintain employment rates and pay wages on time, even if it’s unprofitable for them. When Oleg Deripaska failed to do so in Pikalyovo, he was publicly chastised by Putin, after which he promptly reversed course.
  • A consortium of oligarchs provides financing for flagship Kremlin projects such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the Skolkovo technology center.

In return for these services, Russia’s oligarchs get to keep and profit from their assets. The Russian state is also generous about providing them help with penetrating foreign markets, on the many occasions when oligarch economic interests coincide with the Kremlin’s foreign policy interest, e.g. acquiring steel mills in Ukraine, or stakes in West European energy companies. This system is, in some circles, called “Kremlin, Inc”.

The American model of billionaire-political interaction is much more one-sided; basically, whereas the oligarchic elites have in Russia have decisively come under the heel of the political and security elites since 2003*, the political system in the US has come to be extremely influenced by the billionaire class – especially after the Citizens United judicial decision that removed limits to corporate funding of political of political campaign. The Koch brothers’ bankrolling of the Tea Party movement and war against social rights and environmental protections is only the tip of the iceberg.

* The symbolic occasion was the arrest and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest oligarch at the time. Formally, the charges were tax evasion; in actuality, it was for using his wealth to manipulate the political process, such as funding opposition parties and buying out parliamentary deputies to lobby for lower taxes on the oil industry.

Patriotism & Nationalism

Political correctness is far more developed in the US and Britain than it is in Russia; if you hate immigrants or think women should stay in the kitchen, you’d be best off keeping it to yourself when in ordinary company. In contrast, Russians have no problems mouthing off shockingly racist comments about dark-skinned people (“black-asses”) or telling you that the country is degenerating and needs another Stalin*. However, I don’t think this indicates that Russians are backwards so much as that Westerners are more practiced at concealing their true feelings. If you want proof, one need look no further than the anonymous comments sections on sites like FOX News or The Telegraph; they are full of Islamophobia (and Russophobia, Sinophobia, etc.), anti-immigrant sentiment, war-mongering, paeans to the superiority of Western culture, etc.

* For whatever reason, every single Russian taxi driver I’ve ever hitched a ride with happened to be a hardline Stalinist.

There is a high level of civilizational nationalism in the US: the flag is omnipresent, in the conservative states elementary school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, politicians and pundits go on about how “exceptional” the US is and why it should exercise “global leadership.” Though it sounds quaint at best to Europeans – including the British who let go of messianic complexes by the 1960′s and the Russians by the 1990′s* – the fact is that many Americans truly believe in this vision of the US as a “city on the hill” with a civilizing global mission. While the official rhetoric about “freedom promotion” and “democracy building” mostly elicits cynical smirks from the politicos in the End Of History-type places like the Bay Area, it is treated with the appropriate gravitas in Middle America.

* To summarize: The British had an empire; the Russians miss their empire; the Americans run an empire, but don’t want to admit it.

Famous photo of Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag over Berlin. (The US equivalent has American GI's raising the flag on Iwo Jima).

Famous photo of Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag over Berlin. (The US equivalent has American GI’s raising the flag on Iwo Jima).

Russian patriotism is based on appreciation of its culture, values, and a shared history that reaches its apogee in the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). The shared sacrifices incurred in that struggle – 27 million dead in the USSR, including 13 million Russians – for survival bind together not only Russian citizens, but all the peoples of the former Soviet Union. The Kremlin has encouraged its emergence as the primary national myth consolidating the modern Russian nation-state.

Arguably, Russian patriotism tends to be less bombastic and immediately visible than in America, but is every bit as deep-seated; certainly the Russian flag is nowhere near as omnipresent as in the US (though more so than in the UK or Germany). British patriotism is as real as Russian or American, but tends to be more low-key and even self-deprecatory.

It is hard to deny that the pageantry of the Russian state – as in its anthems, songs, marches, flags, symbols, monumental architecture – is some of the deepest and most moving and inspiring in the world. E.g. see this video of the 1945 Victory March in Moscow.

Ethnic based nationalism is an extremely fringe movement in the US, despite sites like Stormfront and books like The Turner Diaries. It has a far more visible presence in Russia, where skinhead gangs make parts of some cities unsafe for people with the wrong skin color, especially after events like football matches*. Though the gangs themselves number no more than a few tens of thousands, the slogan of “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” is approved by nearly half the population.

* It is common for supporters of rival football clubs to duke it out at set times and places on Russian streets. The police keep a watch on these brawls, but don’t interfere as long as they doesn’t spiral out of control. I heard that some decades ago there used to be similar scenes in Britain, but nowadays the police take a far harder line against football hooliganism.

Party Systems

One of the great strengths of the two party system in the US is that whenever one of its halves loses legitimacy (as indicated by elections), the other half takes over and starts out with a clean slate. But members of both parties are drawn from the ranks of the same power elite that never loses its standing in this system of dynamic equilibrium. There is a similar dynamic in Britain, although it has 2.5 major parties; their “first past the post” electoral system prevents small parties from playing any significant role, as is common in Europe.

In contrast, the current Russian arrangement is metastable, i.e. in a delicate equilibrium that is maintained by popular approval for the Kremlin and its leading personalities. The Kremlin may resolve this long-term stability problem by encouraging a genuinely competitive politics, e.g. by splitting United Russia into conservative (merge with LPDR) and social democratic (merge with Fair Russia) wings. But as it currently stands, if its political legitimacy were to fade away, e.g. if economic stagnation sets in, then the consequences may be unpredictable.

The Media

The UK print media is dominated by The Guardian (liberal left; pro-Labour; readers nicknamed “Guardianistas” by right wingers); The Daily Telegraph (right conservative; pro-Conservative); The Independent (very liberal, left; vaguely pro-Liberal Democrat); the centrist Times; The Financial Times (The City’s paper); and the tabloids The Sun (right populist) and The Daily Mail (centrist populist; nicknamed “The Daily Fail” by critics). The most important magazine is The Economist, whose most valuable service, IMO, is not the spread of good information or analysis – they follow a blatantly pro-Western, pro-free markets line and try to force everything into that narrow narrative – but the provision of good insights into the mentalities of the political/financial Anglo-Saxon elites. My favorite British paper is The Independent (you can comment on almost every article) and The Guardian (its investigative journalism is unparalleled); but in fairness, The Telegraph and even The Daily Mail have interesting stuff. Certainly, British conservatives are far more reasoned than their American counterparts. I also used to like The Times, but haven’t checked back since they raised a paywall.

On TV, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) pretends to be neutral and editorially independent, but that’s not the case now if it ever was; back in 2004, its head was sacked for alleging – not without cause – that the government “sexed up” the case for the Iraq War. The rot has only festered since. What makes this particularly annoying is that to watch TV at all in the UK, you have to pay a tax specifically for the upkeep of the BBC, even if you have no intention of ever watching it. The most interesting and controversial voices tend to appear on Channel 4.

In the US, the two major papers are The New York Times (centrist, largely pro-Democrat; nicknamed “The Gray Lady” and regarded as the paper of record), The Washington Post (centrist), The Wall Street Journal (right-wing paper of the financial/business class), The Washington Times (neocon jerks), The Christian Science Monitor (intelligent centrist), The LA Times (pretty good), the San Francisco Chronicle, etc. My favorites are the NYT, WaPo, and CSM.

The US also has a huge variety of high-quality journals dedicated to specific issues or opinion, e.g. Foreign Affairs, Salon, The Atlantic, The Nation, The National Interest, etc. Of particular note is STRATFOR. Its best feature is that it does not, like the mass media, try to fit events into some ideologized narrative, e.g. by peddling myths such as that the reason France or the US got involved in Libya is because of human rights or democracy. Instead, its combination of good intelligence, focus on geopolitics and realism, and disavowal of ideology enables excellent analysis. Tje subscription fee isn’t cheap but well worth the money.

I’ve never bothered to get a TV in the US, but from the stuff I’ve seen, it was a good decision. Ads are long and news coverage is juvenile and more slanted than in the UK (let alone Europe).

Though a great deal is made of the US media being privately owned, and therefore editorially independent, there is no such connection; to the contrary, being reliant on advertising revenue, private media has to cater to popular stereotypes (by reducing everything to simplistic, good vs. evil narratives) and to maintain good relations with the government (to get the approved leaks and inside sources that make news stories; plus, the media’s parent companies sometimes generate some of their revenue from contractual relations with the government itself). Even the NYT, the most highly regarded US newspaper, has on numerous occasions acted to conceal information deemed embarrassing to the government (and not a threat to national security, as claimed). The simple fact is that where the state does not set the editorial line (e.g. the BBC; most of Russian TV), journalists tend to self-censor themselves anyway.

PS. Here I should make an important semantic note. Whereas “liberal” tends to mean leftist in the US (often with social liberal connotations), and to mean a social liberal in the UK and Europe (for instance, the Liberal Democrats are more socially liberal than New Labour; but they are further to the right economically), in Russia it tends to imply right-wing economics and pro-Western orientations. The opposite of liberal, in the Russian political discourse, is “patriot”, and typically has leftist and pro-Russian/pro-Eurasian connotations.

The Russian print media is dominated by Komsomolskaya Pravda (leftist); Vedomosti (liberal right; features good coverage of political and/or corruption scandals); Kommersant (centrist, financial); Argumenty i Fakty (left-patriotic); Izvestia (centrist-patriotic); Nezavisimaya Gazeta (liberal left); Novaya Gazeta (very liberal; the voice of the liberal intelligentsia); Trud (very leftist; the voice of the Communists); Rossiyskaya Gazeta (responsible for publishing new laws, official paper of record). Also of note is Lenta.Ru, an Internet-based publication. Then there’s the infamous Pravda, which is tabloid trash and, contrary to popular opinion, has nothing to do with the old Soviet paper of the same name. My favorite papers are Kommersant, Argumenty i Fakty, and Vedomosti.

This is a gross generalization, but my impression is that (serious) Russian newspapers tend to have more details on global events than major Western ones; they are certainly far better at giving both sides of the story when it involves the West vs. Someone Else. For instance, in contrast to the good guys vs. bad guys narrative spun by most US/UK newspapers on Libya, the Russians were far earlier and more insistent on raising uncomfortable questions, such as: Are the rebels truly more human rights-respecting than Gaddafi? Do they actually have more popular support? Are they militarily competent, and if not, might a ground intervention not become necessary? What about their ties to radical Islamists? Is NATO’s goal to provide civilian protection, as allowed by UN resolution, or regime change? The only major Western publications that are as probing and skeptical on these issues as the likes of Kommersant or Lenta.Ru that come to mind are STRATFOR and Spiegel.

Russia’s TV channels are, pretty explicitly, pro-government (though unlike British (BBC) or American ones (FOX News – “fair and balanced”) they don’t bother making claims to impartiality). The main independent broadcast media are Ren TV (which airs controversial documentaries and prominently features opposition liberals and socialists) and the Echo of Moscow radio station.

I can’t really comment in any detail on the differences between Russian, British, and American TV because I haven’t watched the box in many years.

Western news channels unleashed a barrage of propaganda during the South Ossetian War, portraying it as an unprovoked Russian invasion of free democratic Georgia.

Western news channels unleashed a barrage of propaganda during the South Ossetian War, portraying it as an unprovoked Russian invasion of free democratic Georgia.

Whereas many Western political scientists make a big deal of the division between the “free” US (UK, etc) press and the “controlled” Russian press, I’m hard-pressed to spot a difference. When the Western political elites are united on a particular goal (e.g. the months leading up to the Iraq War in the US), then their broadcast media follows in step; plurality only appears when the elites divide (e.g. in the aftermath of that same Iraq War, when prominent politicians began to question the wisdom of the adventure).

The best demonstration of the myth that Western media is in any way exceptional lies in its coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia War, in which the uniform line was that Russia was the aggressor against Georgia. The inconvenient facts that it was the Georgians who had started the war by shelling the Ossetian city of Tskhinvali and the Russian peacekeepers guarding it remained unknown and unaired to viewers of the mainstream media throughout the war. CNN presented pictures of Georgian destruction in Tskhinvali as Russian destruction of the Georgian town of Gori. Of course, the Russians too were actively involved in this “information war”. As this Wikipedia article makes clear, both Western and Russian journalists where driven not by the search for truth but by the agendas of their editors, bosses and political handlers back home.

Russia has what its fans call a “dissident press”; small publications, typically liberal or socialist, online (e.g. the liberal Ezhednevny Zhurnal, whose denizens are called “ezhiki”, or hedgehogs; and Left.Ru for socialists). The US has them too, where they are called the alternate media; examples include The Daily Cos, Alternet, Antiwar, Counterpunch, Exiled Online, and they are usually populated by leftists, anarchists, and libertarians.

Russia Today's real sin is that it asks uncomfortable questions that others are too afraid to ask.

Russia Today’s real sin is that it asks uncomfortable questions that others are too afraid to ask.

Interestingly, Russia Today – the English-language broadcasting arm of the Russian state (who main political analyst Peter Lavelle I interviewed here), which is criticized for spreading anti-American propaganda by some and defended as encouraging Westerners to “question more” by others, is favorably cited by the aforementioned US dissidents. Their mirror image are the Russian dissidents who tune in to Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, which mainstream Russian politicians dismiss as propaganda channels seeking to undermine Russia. The symmetry is amusing to say the least.

While Russia Today is critical of many US policies, especially foreign policy, if you were to call it “anti-Western”, then you’d have to call the vast majority of Western media outlets “Russophobic” for consistency. For instance, it is one of the very few media outlets that covers US antiwar protests, e.g. at Fort Benning where several RT journalists were arrested. Similarly, Western media outlets devote a lot of attention to Russian liberal protests (but not Communist, anarchist, etc.) than Russian journalists. And of course it’s not like that it’s only Russian protesters who get beaten up…

That said… American journalists are still far, far better at covering the US than the Russian journalists digging around for horror stories of American healthcare; just as Russian journalists are far better at covering Russia than British or American journalists on two year assignments in Moscow who may not even know the language and believe that liberal protests are the cutting edge of Russian political life.

(PS. One important point on which the symmetry breaks down is that whereas the Western media frequently claims that the Russian media is controlled, the reverse practically never happens. For instance, in the lead-up to the Wikileaks Cablegate, The Christian Science Monitor patronizingly wrote:

WikiLeaks ready to drop a bombshell on Russia. But will Russians get to read about it? WikiLeaks is about to release documents on Russia, but the tightly-controlled Russian media is unlikely to report them the way Western media attacked the documents about Afghanistan and Iraq.

Which is of course why state news agency RIA and Kommersant both reported it on the same day! Not to mention that describing the Western media’s (largely negative) response to Wikileaks in such glowing terms can only be ironic…

And this is one example from literally thousands. Again, I can’t be emphasize just how annoyingly repetitive and willfully ignorant the Western media tends to be on their Russian counterparts).

Right-wing political analysts in the US and Russia like to predict each other’s collapse. For instance, in its global forecasts, the CIA has repeatedly predicted the breakup of the Russian Federation into its constituent ethnic parts and demographic takeover by Muslims within the next few decades. Meanwhile, some analysts linked to Russia’s intelligence community, such as Igor Panarin, have predicted the breakup of the US, and the annexation of its southern borderlands by Mexico. Needless to say, they should all be writing sci-fi novels.

The final three Russian publications of note are RIA Novosti (a state-owned international news agency but liberal leaning); The Moscow Times (an independent publication for Western expats in Russia that is full of liberal sensationalism); and Inosmi (a site that translates Western news items, mostly about Russia, into Russian for a patriot-leaning audience that then proceeds to discuss them or mock them).

Both Russia and especially the US have rich blogospheres, which are in some cases threatening to supplant the centuries-old dominance of the mainstream media altogether.

Internet Culture

Internet penetration is near universal in the US and the UK. It is also near universal amongst younger Russians, although this has only come about in the last few years. The fastest Internet is on the East Coast, followed by the West Coast including California, followed by the UK, followed by Russia. Stuff like Internet businesses and Internet shopping remains the most developed in the US, less developed in the UK, and far less developed (but growing very fast) in Russia. Also, it is typical for cafes and other public places to have access to Wifi in the US; this is still very rare in both the UK and Russia.

xkcd Americans are an opinionated people, hence the richness, variety and zaniness of its blogosphere. Every Joe wants a say. While the majority aren’t worth listening to, nonetheless, practically every subject under the sun has at least one very knowledgeable pundit plugging away at the keyboard: North Korea watchers; Arctic aficionados; Afghan tribe trackers; peak oil theorists; etc. The most fascinating fact is that many of these people don’t even work in universities, think-tanks, governments, corporate research, etc.; they are amateur enthusiasts whose works blow away those of the self-proclaimed experts.

Another aspect of the American blogosphere is that at its heights, it has begun to merge into the mainstream and traditional media. For instance, at the pinnacle, it is unclear whether The Huffington Post is even a blog or a news site. Like the American body politic, the blogosphere is rife with “culture wars”; some of the biggest battalions marshal at the blog of Matt Yglesias (the liberals) and Michelle Malkin (the conservatives). Generally, I think there are far more conservatives at the nuttier ends of the spectrum than liberals, though certainly there are also many liberals who veer from well-meaning criticism of US policies to Americanophobia. Other wars and sub-wars carry on in the dark depths of cyberspace. I’m well acquainted with three.

The “Russophiles” vs. “Russophobes” (encountered when I first started blogging, though fortunately in more recent years the Russia debate has largely transcended these simplistic categories). The “deniers” vs. “warmists” is a huge war between those who accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming and those who deny it. And the “doomers” vs. the “cornucopians”, which I encountered when I took an interest in concepts like peak oil and the technological singularity; roughly, the former think civilization will soon collapse and we’ll die out, while the latter believe – just as absurdly – that the Earth can sustain unlimited (economic, demographic, etc.) growth.

A putztriot's dream.

A putztriot’s dream.

The main culture war in Russia is fought on multiple fronts (as opposed to liberals vs. conservatives in the US). You have the “patriots” (generally like Putin; skeptical towards Western intentions; sometimes steer into nationalism; called “putztriots” by their liberal detractors); the liberals (most love the West, and especially the US, unconditionally; blind hatred of Putin; accused of sucking up to the West; are called “liberasts” or by their patriot detractors, and are said to belong to “demschiza“, i.e. pseudo-democratic schizophrenics); the Communists (love socialism, and frequently Stalin; nostalgia for USSR; many dislike Putin regime for tolerating oligarchs and parasites; called “kommunyaks” and “sovoks” by liberals and some patriots); the foshists (the fascists – liberals tend to think patriots are all fascists, and at times the line can be blurry; nonetheless, there are real and significant differences, namely that patriots aren’t racist, while fascists hate the Putin regime for allowing Russia to be “polluted” by Jews, Caucasians, etc.); and Kremlin supporters (called the “kremlyad” and “Putinoids” by detractors; most often by liberals and fascists, but anti-Kremlin patriots and Communists have been known to use it too).

All groups criticize de rmoktariya (lit., “shit democracy”), but it means different things for everyone. For Kremlin supporters and most patriots, it primarily refers to the perceived sham democracy of the 1990′s (as opposed to the “sovereign democracy” of today); for liberals, it refers to the current system (as opposed to the 1990′s Golden Age of freedom); for many Communists, it refers to the post-Soviet system in general; and the fascists equate all democracy with dermoktariya.

Across the entirety of “Runet”, i.e. the Russian Internet, I would estimate that of the politically inclined: 50% are patriots; 30% are Kremlin supporters; 20% are Communists; 20% are liberals; 10% are fascists. These groups overlap extensively (see below).

A liberast's dream.

A liberast’s dream.

The most loathed group are the radical liberals, the ones who hate Russia; faced by them, the patriots, Communists and Kremlin supporters tend to unite to suppress them on the political message boards or LiveJournal blogs. But frequently, a patriot or a Communist would mock a Kremlin supporter, because, say, the former doesn’t like the Kremlin’s corruption or perceived tolerance for illegal immigration, and the latter doesn’t like inequality, corruption, crime, etc., and all the other things they think were better in the good old Soviet days. Interestingly, your typical patriot and Communist is actually more anti-Western than the straight-laced Kremlin supporters.

Eddie Limonov: "We will need children from the new people... Permit polygamy, free associations. Women should get pregnant continuously and to bear fruits... Education will become short and will be different. Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade throwers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry."

Eddie Limonov: “We will need children from the new people… Permit polygamy, free associations. Women should get pregnant continuously and to bear fruits… Education will become short and will be different. Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade throwers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry.”

There is also a lot of overlap between groups. Most patriots, and many Communists, and even a few liberals, do actually support the Kremlin (note that the Kremlin itself is divided between “patriots”, and the patriot-liberals clustered around President Medvedev). Other, more marginalized, chimeras include liberal nationalists (pro-Western, but with ethnic Russian nationalist leanings; the most prominent such is Alexei Navalny, mentioned in the first part of this series); Communists with liberal leanings, who would be social democrats or greens in Europe; and nationalist Communists, such as the wacky National Bolsheviks (their leader, Eduard Limonov, is an especially colorful character: a playboy émigré who returned to Russia in the 1990′s to preach a weird synthesis of Nazism and Stalinism, he was imprisoned for plotting a revolution in Kazakhstan; since then, he has joined forces with the liberals against the Kremlin, which is ironic to say the least since those same liberals would be first up against the wall in the fantastical scenario that the NatsBols ever come to power).

Throughout the blogosphere, these culture wars are characterized by rudeness, extremism, censorship, etc., on all sides, including those who call themselves liberals or democrats and pretend to worship free speech. Fun anecdote: the Russian liberals frequently accused their opponents of using “web brigades” – bands of Kremlin-paid commentators posting under changing usernames – to defeat them on Internet discussions. So unfair! So what do some of them decide to do? They created web brigades of their own to attack the “bloody regime” and its defenders! That is, until the plot was revealed by a disillusioned insider. While this liberal web brigade operated, it succeeded at influencing the outcomes of practically zero discussions. Ironically, their greatest victory was to prove the infeasbility and uselessness of “web brigades” – be they liberal, Kremlin, or Martian – in the first place.

To a large extent, the British blogosphere is tied up with the American one, due to the common language.

The Anglo-Saxon blogosphere mostly uses blog platforms like WordPress (excellent) and Google Blogger (mediocre). Most Russians use LiveJournal – which is far more profiteering, restrictive, and generally crappy – for no good reason I can see.

Google dominates search engines in both the US and the UK. In Russia, a viable competitor to Google (in its own country, not abroad) has emerged in the form of Yandex. The premier online shopping hub in the US and UK is Amazon; in Russia, it is Ozon. The social network of choice for the British and American middle class is Facebook (the best network). The lower classes use MySpace (pretty crappy), though many of them have began migrating to Facebook in recent years. The Russia network of choice used to be Odnoklassniki (which is pretty crappy), but the more advanced elements have switched to Vkontakte (a substandard copy of Facebook, even down to the color scheme); however, Facebook is growing very fast, albeit from a very low base. Twitter remains largely dominated by Americans.


One common stereotype is that Russia is much more corrupt than the US or the UK. This is true for small scale corruption. Slipping in a bill – or a bottle of cognac for male, a box of chocolates for female bureaucrats – will tend to enhance your chances of getting a driving license, getting documents processed faster, having a ticket written off by the traffic policeman, etc. That said, corruption is certainly far from ubiquitous and it is almost always possible to have everything go through legal channels. The small scale corruption is now in retreat, as bureaucrats are becoming subject to more stringent checks and controls; the result is that with increased risk, the size of the average bribe has nearly doubled in the last few years. According to various opinion polls, 15% of Russians say they paid a bribe in the past year, compared to about 2% of both Britons and Americans.

In my view, the main reason that lower-level corruption is far more prevalent in Russia than in the developed West is that the cost/benefits are more skewed in corruption’s favor, due to lower salaries, far more red tape, and weaker anti-corruption mechanisms. For instance, no California policeman is going to risk his cushy, full-benefits, $60,000 job even for big bribes from motorists. Consequently, as a rule, mostly it is billionaires or very rich people who can enjoy the benefits of corruption in the US or Britain, e.g. the billionaire pedophile / sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein who got a one year home arrest (and free to leave for work 16 hours per day!) for what would usually be a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence. In Russia, similar privileges are available for mere millionaires and regional political bigwigs, e.g. Ludmila Shavenkova, daughter of a United Russia deputy in Irkutsk guilty of vehicular manslaughter, got a 2.5 year sentence but only due to start in 14 years – by which time she would most likely have been quietly acquitted… And even that symbolic sentence was only imposed after a big citizen outcry.

I used to believe that corruption at the higher levels of government and business was also far more prevalent in Russia, but the financial crisis – and the cozy ties between regulators, banks and politicians that it revealed, and the $100′s billions that well-connected financial institutions received in bailouts from the US and UK governments – has made me reconsider. While there can be little doubt that Russian elites sock away a lot of money to offshore havens – e.g., state pipeline operator Transneft was recently discovered (by Navalny) to have socked away $4 billion through an elaborate network of shell companies and offshore havens – at least they do it far more discretely now than in the 1990′s, when the graft was visibly, even proudly, in the open.

In stark contrast, the rot at the heart of the Western economies has become increasingly evident since 2008 and the bailouts, which unleashed a cascade of corruption in which trillions of dollars of free credit were unaccountably transferred from American taxpayers to rich individuals and corporations, which in turn lent the money back to the government at (higher) market rates. The difference is the billionaires’ subsidy. As in Russia, most of what we know of corruption at the highest levels comes not from the traditional media, which is beholden to the power elites, but investigative reporters working for smaller “alternate” publications, such as Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone. Similar financial shenanigans have also become prevalent in the UK.

One major difference between corruption in Russia and the US is that in the latter, much of it is “legalized corruption”; i.e., what would count as corruption in Russia (and in European countries in general) goes as a matter of course in the US. Some examples of this “legalized corruption”:

  • Politicians receive the bulk of their money from corporations. Lobbying is not only a legal but an integral part of US political life. Corporations enjoy individual rights, such as freedom of speech (though not so much their detractors, who can be sued for libel), and under the Obama Presidency, the Supreme Court has removed limits to corporate funding of political campaigns. Much of what passes for lobbying in the US would invite criminal investigations in Europe.
  • Government regulators not only enjoy good relations with institutions they’re supposed to regulate, but a “resolving doors” culture means that every few years they actually swap places! E.g., the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) that is supposed to investigate suspected Wall Street fraudsters is actually more interested in protecting them.
  • Symbiotic relations between private prison companies and the justice system; between pharmaceutical companies and doctors; advertisers and the news media; the privatized anti-terrorism sector and the politicians at the money spigots.
  • Plea bargaining is a central element of the justice system; threats, rewards and coercion from the side of the prosecutors can steer results from the just legal outcome, as innocents are frequently tempted to settle for a lighter term in exchange for not running the risk of incurring a very heavy one.

Overall, corruption is far less prevalent in the UK, at least outside the financial sector. There is a long and ongoing scandal about M.P.’s expenses, in which politicians tabbed expenses unrelated to their work such as buying cars or redecorating apartments. But what stands out about them is that ultimately, the sums involved, going no higher than the $100,000′s, are really pretty modest by Russian standards, where typical political corruption scandals can run into the millions, tens of millions, and higher.

The most well-known corruption index is the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) compiled by Transparency International, in which for 2010 the UK gets 7.6, the US gets 7.1, and Russia gets 2.1. The main problem with it is that it is not a measure of corruption per se, but of corruption perceptions; those who do the perceiving are mostly various Western experts and businesspeople; not only do they rely on the Western media extremely negative coverage of Russia, but as covered in the documentary film Inside Job, many of these same experts and businesspeople enable or even participate in corruption in their own countries!

I do not think Russia’s score, wedged in between Zimbabwe (2.2) and Equatorial Guinea (1.8), reflects its real level of corruption. While no-one disputes corruption is extremely prevalent in Russia, it does provide social services – in some sectors, like education, relatively good ones – to its population, and is surely far from those kleptocracies on any objective corruption scale. In fact there are a lot of other, similar absurdities in the CPI: for instance, Saudi Arabia – where most oil rents flow to a few thousand members of the House of Saud – is apparently cleaner than Italy, which is just WTF? See this comments thread for a critique of CPI’s methodology.

I think a fairer index is the Global Integrity Report, which actually analyzes the specific policies and laws rather than relying on something as fluffy as perceptions. My own ranking would go, from least corrupt to most, something like: (Sweden) – UK / (Germany) – USA / (Italy / Belarus / 1980′s USSR) – Russia / (Greece) – (Ukraine / Mexico) – (Saudi Arabia / Nigeria) – (Equatorial Guinea / Congo / Somalia).

One aspect of corruption in which Russia may perform better than the US and the UK is in tax compliance by big corporations (though not small ones, in which under the table payments remain widespread). Simplified tax laws since 2000 have created more incentives to pay up, while the prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky – widely condemned in the Western media – has made many big businessmen too afraid of using tax havens for tax avoidance. Tax collection has risen from around 50% of the expected take in the 1990′s to 90% by the mid-2000′s. Tax avoidance by big companies in Britain and the US seems to have become endemic in recent years, to the extent that a grassroots organization called Uncut has arisen to protest and harass them.

The Environment

At the popular level, only about half of Britons believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW); especially after the Climategate (non-)scandal. That said, environmental consciousness is undoubtedly most developed in Britain (if nowhere near the extent in Germany or Scandinavia). At least, one Green Party M.P. got elected in the last elections; whereas both US and Russian green parties are extremely marginal in the political process, and their activists are widely vilified.

On the plus side, Russia does not have the idiotic, ideologized AGW denialism that has taken over one of the main US parties, the Republicans. That far north, the effects of global warming are clear – especially after the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, in which a third of its grain crop was destroyed – and the only real question is about whether it should actually do much about it. After all, theoretically, a moderate degree of global warming would actually benefit Russia, by opening up agricultural lands in the north, clearing the Northern Sea Route, and making remote resources exploitable for the first time. However, there is a sizable number of people who view global warming as a natural climatic cycle (including Putin); many others, as in Canada, argue that even if it’s caused by humans, it would nonetheless be a positive development for the country, and that it should just bask in the sun and let the warming take its course.

Many Russians and Americans tend to assume the “cornucopian” view that there are few, if any, limits to growth on the planet. Though it is fast gaining political acceptance in Europe (including Britain), peak oil remains a fringe theory in the US (with the exception of California, which has a lot of unconventional thinkers, and survivalists), while Russia has many proponents of the theory of abiogenic petroleum origin, which holds that oil is created by constant geological processes, instead of biological processes in the distant past. As a high-density country that imports most of its energy and mineral resources, Britain is understandably far more concerned about the possibility that oil supplies won’t last forever.

The Military

Americans view their military very positively; in fact, the Armed Forces are the single most trusted institution in US life. To its fiscal woe, cutting the military budget – in nominal terms, almost as big as the rest of the world’s combined – is as unthinkable for Democrats as it is for conservative Republicans. This is despite the fact that military procurement is one of the most inefficient (and probably corrupt) sectors of the US economy. Seemingly innocuous gestures, such as arguing for cuts to the military, or questioning whether the US is over-reliant on military power in its dealings with the rest of the world, can get one labeled as unpatriotic; suggesting that the US may be repeating the mistakes of the USSR, which massively over-invested in military spending to the detriment of its civilian economy, can bring on apoplexy.

The British view their military positively, but without the overbearing reverence more typical of Americans. This means that defense cuts are politically feasible, and are indeed now being carried out by the Conservatives (if in a rather slapdash and incompetent way, as with most of their other policies). Their end result is that within a decade, the UK will cease to be a leading military Power. Instead, more resources are planned to be allocated to foreign aid for unstable countries such as Pakistan; it is clear that the plan is to put more emphasis on “soft power”.

I have already covered Russians’ views on the military in the first part of the series, in which I talked about conscription. As with the US and the UK, though the military is viewed positively, opinions are split about the desirability of conscription and there is some doubt about its ability to defend the country. This is in part a result of two decades of degradation, of both the military and the military-industrial complex, after the fall of the Soviet Union. There is a huge rearmament plan in the works for the 2011-2020 period that the Kremlin hopes will decisively reverse these negative trends, and assuming oil prices stay high, it should be affordable too.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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It’s sad, but not unexpected, to see the usual motley of neocons, freepers and general creeps crawling about the interwebs, baying for Assange’s blood and calling for him to be disappeared into the Nacht und Nebel. But it is absolutely tragic that, misled by the MSM and dulled by their own cynicism, so many people who in other times might have resisted those right-wing thugs, instead just content themselves with making smartass remarks about how Cablegate has revealed nothing new or consequential (or even, implausibly and disingenuously, accuse Wikileaks of being a CIA front tasked with spreading pro-US disinformation).

Now even if this charge were valid, it would be no reason to dismiss a project that is enabling the rise of “contemporary history” and opening up the cynical workings of geopolitical actors to a public that is nowhere near as familiar with them as those smug commentators. And it’s no reason whatsoever not to condemn the enraged lunatic fringe calling for Wikileaks to be branded a terrorist organization (with all the attendant consequences for its members’ life expectancy), or not to confront the “moderates” like Joe Lieberman who intimidate private enterprises into joining the crusade against Wikileaks and through their actions enable the extremists. [BTW, a fun factoid: one of old Joe's biggest hobbies is bashing Russia for its human rights abuses, such as breaking up (unsanctioned) protests: such atrocities never happen in the US, of course.]

But even that isn’t all there is to it, because if you look deeply enough, there ARE many, many very interesting revelations in these cables. It’s just that the Western MSM, beholden to the corporate and political elites that provide it with audiences, sources and funding, is actually COLLUDING with their governments, and above all the US government, to conceal or ACTIVELY DISTORT the content of many of these cables. And with great success, as even the skeptics and free thinkers are drawn into the resulting narrative.

Even the Empire's satirists are its (unwitting) servants...

Even the Empire’s satirists are its (unwitting) servants…

Take a look at that cartoon above. See that “flabby old chap” Kim Jong-il of North Korea handing a nice fat missile to Iranian President Ahmadinjad (the one about to be stabbed by the fat Arab with shades)? That part of the cartoon reflects an NYT story that – based on a cable that it refused to reprint under pressure from the Obama administration – supposedly claimed that “secret American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iran has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, based on a Russian design, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.” So it’s politically accurate and cynically subversive artwork, right?

Unfortunately, no. Thanks to yeoman investigative journalism by Gareth Porter, the NYT story WAS MISSING A CRITICAL HALF: the tight Russian arguments that in fact no such missiles were known to exist in North Korea (let alone Iran), and that a weapons transfer of such magnitude between the two countries was impossible. His article Wikileaks Exposes Complicity of the Press is a rare example of what real journalist is about and cannot be recommended enough. It also illustrates that, by deliberately overlooking the Russian objections to American assessments of Iran’s missile capabilities, the authors of the NYT article deliberately slanted their coverage, in such a way that “a key Wikileaks document which should have resulted in storiescalling into question the thrust of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defense policy in Europe based on an alleged Iranian missile threat has instead produced a spate of stories buttressing anti-Iran hysteria.”

But it gets even darker. Thanks to the commendable efforts of our freedom-protecting friends at the Department of Homeland Security to intimidate companies “hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them,” – BTW, any chance that the Tea Party will get up in arms over this latest intrusion of the Obama socialist regime into private business? LOL. – by the time I tried to access the original cable, the original site was down.

Though you can still browse Wikileaks through the IP quad, I couldn’t find that cable there. AFAIK, the only remaining online copy of the offending cable – at least now, if and until Wikileaks restores it – is in the Internet graveyard that is" href="">Google Cache. But not any longer. I’m reprinting the whole thing below in solidarity with the Wikileaks idea. (In particular, please read #26 and #29).

(And expect more in the future. Like Sean Guillory and Russian Reporter, I too intend to cover many more leaks in what promise to be some very fun and interesting next few weeks.)

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10STATE17263 2010-02-24 22:10 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Secretary of State
R 242212Z FEB 10
S E C R E T STATE 017263 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2035


REF: 09 STATE 082572 

Classified By: ISN Acting A/S Vann H. Van Diepen.  Reason 1.5 (D)


1. (S) A U.S. interagency team — lead by ISN Acting
Assistant Secretary Vann H. Van Diepen — met with a Russian
interagency team lead by Vladimir Nazarov, Deputy Secretary
of the Russian National Security Council (full participants
list is provided in paragraphs 76-77 below), on December 22,
2009 for a second round of discussions on a Joint Threat
Assessment (JTA), as agreed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev
in the 2009 U.S.-Russia Summit Joint Statement on Missile
Defense Issues. The Russian delegation came prepared to
engage seriously, and made presentations on their evaluation
of the missile programs of Iran and the DPRK; a conceptual
framework for evaluating the risk posed by various missile
programs; Russian concerns about instability in Pakistan and
the security of nuclear weapons and missiles there; and the
work of the FSB (Federal Security Service) in countering
efforts by Iranian and North Korean agencies to either obtain
nuclear and missile technologies and materials in Russia or
to transship the
m through Russian territory. While the Russians were
prepared for discussions of cooperation at a strategic level
on countering missile proliferation, their position remained
the same: in their analysis, the missile programs of Iran and
the DPRK are not sufficiently developed, and their intentions
to use missiles against the U.S. or Russia are nonexistent,
thus not constituting a “threat” requiring the deployment of
missile defenses. The discussions included a vigorous
exchange of questions and answers, and concluded with an
invitation by the Russians to hold the next round of the JTA
in Moscow in March or April 2010. The discussions lasted the
full day. End Summary.

Opening remarks

2. (S) Van Diepen recalled that the July 2009 U.S.-Russia
Joint Statement called for U.S. and Russian experts to work
together to analyze ballistic missile threats and that the
U.S. side had provided analyses of Iran’s and North Korea’s
missile programs at the September JTA. He said that the U.S.
side looked forward to receiving Russian perspectives on
these programs and discussing areas of agreement and
disagreement. He added that the U.S. hoped that development
of a more shared perspective on these issues would help
inform how the U.S. and Russia address missile threats
bilaterally and multilaterally. Consistent with the Joint
Statement and the non-paper U/S Tauscher provided to Russia
in November, this effort also could help the U.S. and Russia
assess how to defend against missile threats if that becomes
necessary. Van Diepen ended by underscoring that the U.S.
looked forward to detailed discussions and then deciding on
potential next steps.

3. (C) Nazarov thanked Van Diepen for reminding both sides of
the context for the work of the JTA. He noted that the July
6 Joint Statement said that experts of both countries would
analyze threats of the 21st century and make recommendations
for political and diplomatic means to address them. Russia
takes this seriously, and President Medvedev has given the
highest priority to this work and has instructed that this
work be coordinated under the Security Council of the Russian
Federation. Accordingly, Nazarov said, the Russian
delegation includes representatives from all of the Russian
agencies responsible for tracking missile threats and
countering them. He added that the Russian side planned to
make presentations, focusing primarily on Iran and North
Korea. After that, the Russian delegation would be prepared
to comment on the presentations made by the U.S. at the last
JTA meeting in July. He said the Russian delegation had
studied these materials closely and had several comments and

4. (S) Nazarov concluded by noting that Russia looked forward
to a creative dialogue and robust exchange of opinions
between the experts of both sides. He said Russia would
focus primarily on the threats from Iran and North Korea,
noting that Russia believed the long-term strategic interests
of the U.S. and Russia largely coincide and that the
acquisition of nuclear and/or missile capabilities by Iran,
North Korea, or other threshold states is unacceptable.
Nazarov hoped that the discussions would be productive and
potentially lead to the drafting of a joint assessment, and
perhaps to the creation of a joint document.

Russian Presentations on Iran and North Korea


5. (S) Evgeny Zudin of the Russian Ministry of Defense gave
detailed presentations on the Russian assessment of the
Iranian and North Korean missile programs, and the degree to
which Russia believes these programs constitute threats
requiring missile defense responses. For Russia, the bottom
line is that, in essence, neither program constitutes a
threat at the moment or in the near future.

NOTE: Russia did not provide paper copies of either
presentation to the U.S. delegation. END NOTE.

6. (S) On Iran, Zudin made the following points concerning
Scud missiles:

–Given the challenging and complex situation of the regional
context that surrounds Iran, Iran’s leaders view acquiring a
missile capability as a deterrent to existent threats. To
that end, they also consistently exaggerate Iran’s
achievements in missile production.

–The core of the Iranian missile program has been the
evolutionary development of liquid-fueled missiles based on
Soviet Scud technology from the 1960s.

–Tehran acquired Scud B systems from a number of countries
during the 1980s.

–The Iranian version, called the Shahab-1, has a range of
300 km and a reentry vehicle of 1 ton.

–With scientific and technological assistance from North
Korea, Iran acquired production capabilities for both the
Scud B and the Scud C.

–The Scud C, called the Shahab-2 by the Iranians, has a
range of 550 km with a 700 kg payload.

–Iran has also developed and commissioned a medium range
ballistic missile (MRBM) called the Shahab-3, based on the
North Korean No Dong-1 and using Scud-based technologies.
The Shahab-3 has a range of 1,500 km and a 700 kg payload.

–Iran has done a good deal of work to improve the precision
and range of this system, creating the Shahab-3M, which Iran
claims has a range of 2,000 km, although so far the confirmed
range is only 1,600-1,700 km.

–Russia’s analysis indicates that this was achieved by
reducing the re-entry vehicle weight to 250 kg and improving
the engine.

– Russia also believes that this very nearly exhausts the
potential for Iran to increase the range of the Shahab-3 or
make further improvements to Scud-based missile technology.

7. (S) Moving on from Scud-based technology, Zudin made the
following points on Iran’s development of a 2,000 km-range
solid propellant system:

–Iran has been developing solid propellant MRBMs/IRBMs with
better operational capability since 2000.

–Currently, Russia is seeing the development of a two-stage
intermediate (2,000 km) solid propellant missile.

–The first test of this system in November 2007 failed.
During the second test on November 12, 2008, Iran
successfully accomplished the uplift stage of the missile.

–Following the third test of the missile in May 2009, Iran
announced that the launch was successful and that it would
begin serial production of this missile.

–This system was tested again on December 16, 2009, and Iran
also claimed this test was successful.

–The Russian assessment is that regardless of optimistic
statements from Iran, the test of this missile was actually
just a test of a successful prototype and that what the test
did was allow Iran to practice first stage operation and
stage separation.

–Russia believes Iran will need another 2-3 years of testing
to perfect the missile. Russia believes it will not actually
be deployed for 5-6 years.

8. (S) Zudin said that another potential success indicator
for Iran’s missile program is the Safir space launch vehicle
(SLV) program. He said the Safir launch on February 2, 2009
was successful in putting the Omid (26 kg) satellite into
orbit. However, Iran’s first attempt to launch the satellite
into orbit on August 17, 2008 was unsuccessful. Russia
assesses that in order to achieve the successful launch, Iran
had used
the maximum potential of its liquid-propellant technology
(the first stage of the Safir was a Shahab-3). As for Iran
developing combat/offensive long-range missiles based on SLV
technology, Russia believes, in theory, this is possible.
However, from a military technological perspective, Russia
believes this is unviable due to low throw weight of the
system. In addition, Russia believes that development of a
long-range missile based on its SLV efforts would require
Iran to intensify its research and development, conduct a
series of test launches outside its territory, and increase
throw weight and accuracy. Thus, in Russia’s view, despite
Iran’s successful launch of a satellite, it is premature to
talk about Iran successfully developing the technology for a
militarily useful long-range ballistic missile capacity.

9. (S) Zudin summed up his presentation on Iran by noting
that over the last four years, Iran has successfully launched
a 26 kg satellite into orbit and conducted several successful
launches of a solid propellant MRBM, according to unconfirmed
information. However, Russia believes Iran’s “success” boils
down to creating Shahab-3-class liquid propellant missiles
with an accuracy of several kilometers that can reach targets
in the Middle East and Southeastern Europe, but given
conventional warheads, these missiles cannot do substantial
damage. Under favorable conditions, Russia believes Iran
might be able to begin a program to develop ballistic
missiles with ranges of between 3,000-5,000 km after 2015,
but Russia does not see Iran taking any steps in this
direction. Rather, Russia has concluded that Iran’s
ballistic missile program continues to be directed toward
developing combat ready missiles to address regional concerns.

North Korea:

10. (S) Zudin made the following points with regard to the
DPRK’s missile program:

–Over the last two decades North Korea has paid increased
attention to developing and producing ballistic missiles and

–The DPRK has commissioned the production of liquid
propellant missiles such as Scud Bs and Cs (which North Korea
calls the Hwasong 5 and 6), the No Dong I, the short-range
KN-02, and the “Luna-M” tactical missile, plus solid
propellant battlefield and tactical rockets.

–The core of North Korea’s missile capability is missile
technology from the 1960s.

–The potentially outdated No Dong-1, with a range of
1,000-1,300 km and a reentry vehicle of one ton, is the most
advanced missile commissioned by the North Korean military.

–In Russia’s assessment, only the KN-02, with a range of
less than 100 km, is relatively modern.

–Since early in the 1990s, North Korea has slowly developed
missiles of the Taepo Dong class.

–Russia estimates that the Taepo Dong-1 (TD-1) was a
prototype two-stage liquid propellant missile with a
2,000-2,500 km range.

–The TD-I first stage used a No Dong-1 engine, and the
second stage used a Scud engine.

–The only flight test of the TD-I was conducted on August
31, 1998, during which the DPRK practiced separation of
missile stages. North Korea declared this test to be an SLV

–The Taepo Dong-2 (TD-2) MRBM is a two-stage liquid
propellant missile with a range of 3,500-6,000 km, depending
on the weight of the warhead.

–A July 5, 2006 test launch of the TD-II failed as the
missile exploded 40 seconds into flight.

–Russia estimates that North Korea tested elements of the
Taepo Dong-2 with its April 5, 2009 SLV launch.

–Russia believes North Korea has demonstrated a certain
level of progress in the missile area by creating a first
stage engine with a thrust of 100 tons.

–North Korea conducted tests of nuclear devices on October
9, 2006 and May 26, 2009. However, it remains unproven
whether North Korea can make a nuclear warhead of the size
and weight that would allow it to be carried by a ballistic

11. (S) Zudin said that in Russia’s view, the widespread
claims about North Korea’s achievements in the missile area
are dubious. In particular, Russia notes that it is claimed
that North Korea has a new missile based on the Soviet R-27
(NOTE: SS-N-6. END NOTE) submarine-launched ballistic
missile (SLBM) that is capable of reaching ranges of
2,400-4,000 km. However, the many published reports
regarding this missile, which is known as the BM-25, contain
claims that are made without reference to any reliable
sources. Moreover, Zudin said, the fact is that there have
been no successful tests of this missile in either North
Korea or Iran. Russia also is unaware that this missile has
ever been seen. There are claims that 19 of these missiles
were shipped to Iran in 2005, but there is no evidence for
this and concealment of such a transfer would be impossible.

12. (S) Zudin said Russia believes the real missile potential
of North Korea is an impressive arsenal of outdated missiles
with ranges no greater than 1,300 km and that are only a
threat to countries in the region that North Korea considers
to be enemies. Russia estimates that in the years to come
North Korea will devote considerable effort to improving and
perfecting its SLV. To this end, it will use the launch
facility near the community of Tongchang-Dong (NOTE: Known to
the U.S. as the Yunsong facility. END NOTE). Russia
assesses that North Korean development of long-range
ballistic missiles based on SLVs is possible in principle,
but perfection will take years. The prospects for North
Korea developing a combat operational system from such a
process is not likely due to the inability to conduct
concealed preparations for launch and the long preparation

13. (S) Summing up, Zudin said Iran’s and North Korea’s
missile programs can be characterized as follows: the only
real successes are liquid propellant intermediate range
missiles with ranges of 1,300 km, and both countries would
face real technical difficulties in trying to make additional
advances to increase the range of their systems.

Discussion on Iranian and North Korean Missiles

14. (S) Van Diepen thanked the Russian delegation for its
presentations, noting that there appeared to be some areas
where both sides agree, other areas where the two sides see
the same thing a little differently, and areas where the two
sides disagree. He said it is good to have the opportunity
to examine the differences and the reasons for them, and
urged that this be done in a structured way. Van Diepen
proposed discussion begin with Iran and North Korea
generally, and then move to specific categories of
short-range, medium range, and long-range missiles. On Iran,
he said it appeared that both sides had similar assessments
at the technical level with regard to short range missiles in
Iran. On medium range missiles in Iran, both sides agree
there is the original No Dong, a modified No Dong with longer
range – although the U.S. and Russia have different ideas of
the modifications made to achieve that longer range. And
both sides seem to agree that Iran is developing a two-stage
solid propellant missile.
Beyond that, U.S. and Russian assessments seem to diverge.

15. (S) Based on the Russian presentations, the U.S.
delegation posed a number of questions. The Russian
delegation also raised a number of questions about U.S.
comments and the U.S. presentations on Iran and North Korea
from the September JTA talks. The topics raised and
follow-up discussions were as follows:

16. (S) Shahab-3 Reentry Vehicle Mass

The U.S. noted that based on modeling, it assesses that the
modified Shahab-3 has 600 kg re-entry vehicle mass at a range
of 2,000 km, and asked for Russia to explain the basis for
its assessment of 250 kg re-entry vehicle mass. The U.S. also
asked how useful such a missile would be as a military
weapon. Russia responded that there is some uncertainty in
its estimate, conceding that the 250 kg is at the low end of
Russia’s estimate. However, Russia believes that the low
weight of the Shahab-3 warhead makes it pointless as a
military weapon. Although the range could be further
increased with a lighter warhead, Russia’s view is that such
a missile also is pointless. Additionally, while Russia
views the U.S. 600 kg estimate as being close to the 700 kg
weight of the basic Shahab-3 warhead, it assesses that the
range of the system with that warhead is 1,300 km, not 2,000
km. Russia does not believe that if the weight of the
warhead is decreased by just 50 kg, it is realistic to assess
that the Shahab 3 would
achieve a 2,000 km range.

17. (S) Aluminum Airframe

The U.S. said that its assessment of a 2,000 km range for the
Shahab-3 is achieved through the use of an aluminum airframe
instead of steel and increased engine thrust. Russia asked
whether the assessment that the Shahab 3 airframe is made
with aluminum rather than steel is based on speculation or
fact. The U.S. responded that the assessment derives from
information relating to Iran seeking various aluminum alloys.
Additionally, during the Information Exchange (IE) portion
of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Plenary, a
number of presentations, including by the UK and France, also
assessed that the Shahab-3 has an aluminum airframe and
described a number of Iranian attempts to procure aluminum
for this purpose. For this reason there also have been MTCR
proposals to add the types of aluminum sought by Iran to the
MTCR Annex.

18. (S) Safir Airframes

The U.S. noted that it appears that the first stage of the
Safir SLV is the Shahab-3, and asked whether Russia believes
the Safir could achieve orbit with a steel airframe. Russia
answered that the facts are that the Safir was used to put a
satellite with a very low mass into orbit. It is likely that
the technologies used to achieve this were exploited to their
utmost. Russian analysis showed that the size of the Omid is
the limit of what Iran could put into orbit. The U.S. agreed
that a very low weight satellite was all that the Safir
could put into orbit, but assessed that even orbiting such a
small satellite could only be done using an aluminum
airframe. In U.S. modeling of the launch using a steel
airframe, the Safir was not able to get close to putting
anything into orbit.

19. (S) Russia remarked that even if the U.S. and Russia
disagree over the materials used in the airframe, both sides
can agree that the capability of this missile was used to its
maximum to get a satellite into orbit. If there is agreement
on this point, then both sides should be able to agree that
using this system as a weapon is pointless. The U.S.
responded that this was not necessarily so and would depend
on how the rocket is used. The Safir launch might have
been a technology demonstrator. If one clustered or stacked
the Shahab, it could be used as a longer-range system. The
U.S. added that something using a single Shahab as its first
stage will have limitations, but that is not the only option.

20. (S) Using Clustered Engines

Russia noted that during the JTA talks in Moscow, the U.S.
discussed several options Iran would have with regard to a
cluster scheme. However, in Russia’s view, the problem with
a cluster scheme is that it makes the missile nonviable for
military purposes. The U.S. responded that a cluster scheme
would make the system less mobile, but noted that it would
provide a possibility for putting a missile further
downrange. However, the basic U.S. point is that the Safir
could have been a technology demonstrator for staging,
separation, ignition, and control of an upper stage. Russia
noted that it views the Safir launch as a success and has
stated this. Additionally, Russia agrees there are ways to
increase the throw weight, including the clustering of
engines, but the goal of the Russian review of Iran’s missile
capabilities was to examine whether the Iranian program could
create a combat ready missile that meets certain
specifications. In Russia’s view it cannot, and talking
about the Shahab-3 as a long-range
combat missile is unrealistic.

21. (S) The U.S. agreed it is not realistic for a mobile
missile, but thought it would be realistic for use in a silo
or underground. Russia responded that such a missile would
require a fixed launch pad. Fifty years ago fixed launch
pads deep inside a country were survivable, but now that is
not realistic. The U.S. countered that both Russia and the
U.S. still have hundreds of such launch sites. Russia said
that was a topic for another discussion, not JTA.

22. (S) Iran Not Capable of Producing Longer-Range Missiles

Russia said its bottom line is that Iran lacks appropriate
structural materials for long-range systems, such as high
quality aluminum. Iran can build prototypes, but in order to
be a threat to the U.S. or Russia Iran needs to produce
missiles in mass quantities, and it lacks materials
sufficient for the type of mass production needed to be a
security threat. Russia further noted that the technology
for longer-range missiles is sophisticated and difficult to
master. For example, the elongated airframes Iran is using
might not survive the stresses of a ballistic flight path,
and the guidance system for the missile (Shahab-3) is
outdated and does not allow for precision steering.
According to Russian calculations, if the control system is
used at a range of 2,000 km, it could veer as much as 6-7 km
off its target; at 5,000 km, the accuracy could be off by
50-60 km. In addition, the liquid propellants used by the
Iranians are of low efficiency. Iran is working to improve
the power of the engine and develop
more efficient kinds of fuel. However, it faces significant
challenges. Iran also has problems with launch preparation
times, although it has made some recent improvements.

23. (S) Launching from Silos

Russia said it does not think a Shahab-3 derived system could
be launched from a silo. Ground launch sites that are for
SLVs are not suitable for military launches, and missiles
with side-based vent engines and clustered engines cannot be
silo-based. The U.S. responded that this might be an area
where U.S. and Russian assessments differ. For example, the
U.S. thinks the Taepo Dong-2 is a clustered missile that can
be launched from a silo or underground launcher, adding that
there are scenarios to compensate for shortcomings of this
technology should the Iranians or North Koreans choose to
pursue them.

24. (S) Iranian Solid Propellant MRBM

The U.S. said it does not see the solid-propellant MRBM as a
technology demonstrator. This system has been tested four
times in the past two years, and the U.S. assesses Iran will
be ready to field it in less than the 5-6 year timeframe
Russia envisions. Russia asked how soon the U.S. thought the
system could be ready. The U.S. said that it would not be
surprised if a two-stage system with a range up to 2,000 km
were fielded
within a year, at least in limited numbers. The U.S. also
noted that not all countries follow the same testing
procedures as the U.S. and Russia. North Korea is an extreme
example, but Iran does not have the same test philosophy as
either the U.S. or Russia.

25. (S) The Path to Long Range Missile Development in Iran

The U.S. said the main potential avenue for Iran developing
long range missiles is by using current systems as building
blocks. For example, using the Shahab-3 with clustered or
stacked engines could be one path. Another path might be the
so-called BM-25 missile that the U.S. believes was sold to
Iran by North Korea. A third path might be development of a
solid-propellant MRBM with more powerful motors. Russia said
that its views on the Shahab 3 had already been discussed.
Russia had some questions about the other two paths the U.S.
had identified. In addition, Russia thinks it also will be
very important to consider the intentions of Iran and North
Korea that could lead to creation or improvement of its
missiles. This will affect what each side (U.S. and Russia)
does to monitor what these countries (Iran and North Korea)
do to acquire missile technologies, including procurement
methods. It also will help define the key technologies
required by these countries now and in the future and in
finding a means for protecting these technologies.

26. (S) The BM-25

Russia said that during its presentations in Moscow and its
comments thus far during the current talks, the U.S. has
discussed the BM-25 as an existing system. Russia questioned
the basis for this assumption and asked for any facts the
U.S. had to provide its existence such as launches, photos,
etc. For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile. North
Korea has not conducted any tests of this missile, but the
U.S. has said that North Korea transferred 19 of these
missiles to Iran. It is hard for Russia to follow the logic
trail on this. Since Russia has not seen any evidence of
this missile being developed or tested, it is hard for Russia
to imagine that Iran would buy an untested system. Russia
does not understand how a deal would be made for an untested
missile. References to the missile’s existence are more in
the domain of political literature than technical fact. In
short, for Russia, there is a question about the existence of
this system.

27. (S) The U.S. repeated its earlier comment that Iran and
North Korea have different standards of missile development
than many other countries, including the U.S. and Russia.
North Korea exported No Dong missiles after only one flight
test, so it is not unimaginable that it would build and seek
to export a system that has not been tested. This is
especially true for North Korea because of its need for hard
currency. In the U.S. view, the more interesting question is
why would Iran buy a missile that has not been tested. One
possible answer is that Iran has recognized that the BM-25′s
propulsion technology exceeds the capabilities of that used
in the Shahab-3, and that acquiring such technology was very
attractive. Iran wanted engines capable of using
more-energetic fuels, and buying a batch of BM-25 missiles
gives Iran a set it can work on for reverse engineering.
This estimate would be consistent with the second stage of
the Safir SLV using steering engines from the BM-25 missile.

28. (S) Safir and BM-25

The U.S. explained that based on a comparison of Internet
photos of the second stage of the Safir, the U.S. assessment
is that the steering (vernier) engines on the Safir are the
same as on the R-27. The weld lines and tank volumes from
the Safir second stage show that the ratio of oxidizer to
propellant is not consistent with Scud propellants and more
consistent with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and
nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4), which were used in the R-27. The
U.S. does not have any information on why Iran has not flight
tested the BM-25. It may be due to difficulties assembling
the missiles, but it appears that they have at least done
work with the steering (vernier) engines. Russia asked if
the U.S. was saying that its case for the existence of the
BM-25 missile is that individual elements of the Safir
resemble the steering engines of the R-27 missile.

29. (S) The U.S. said that is only part of the case. In the
media, and more importantly in the MTCR Information Exchange,
countries have offered direct evidence of the transfer of the
BM-25 from North Korea to Iran. Russia asked if the U.S. had
pictures of the missile in Iran. The U.S. did not, but noted
that North Korea had paraded the missile through the streets
of Pyongyang. Russia disagreed. Russia said it had reviewed
the video of the North Korean military parade and concluded
that North Korea had shown a different missile. Russia does
not think the BM-25 exists. The missile appears to be a
myth, and some say that it is based on a Russian missile.
However, no one has seen it, and Russia cannot find traces of
it. The U.S. said it would endeavor to provide further
information on the existence of the BM-25 at the next round
of talks, noting that reaching agreement on this point will
affect the joint assessment of Iranian and North Korean
missile capabilities.

30. (S) Safir Fuel

Russia asked whether the U.S. had any clear images of the
Safir that allow for the assessment of tank volumes and the
ratio of fuel to oxidizer. The U.S. said that the weld lines
of the second stage are clear in the pictures Iran put on the
Internet, and U.S. analysts were able to make pretty good
calculations based on this information. Russia questioned
this, saying that the photos did not allow for accurate
measurements of distances. The U.S. undertook to provide
more information on this point at the next round of talks.

31. (S) The U.S. then asked Russia for its assessment of the
types of propellant used in the Safir second stage. Russia
said it thinks that hydrazine is used. The U.S. asked
whether Russia thought UDMH might be involved. Russia did
not. It said that there might be different combinations of
fuel and oxidizers, but the base is hydrazine.

32. (S) More on Propellants

The U.S. asked whether Russia assesses that Iran is moving
beyond Scud propellants. Russia responded that it believes
Iran is trying to move in this direction because it wants
something more powerful – something that can lift 40-50 tons.
With bigger engines, Iran can improve missile range. Thus,
Iran has been working to acquire more-energetic fuels and
trying to produce UDMH and N2O4. However, Iran has been
working on this for approximately 10 years, and Russia has
not seen any serious results. Russia further noted that
Malik Ashtar University in Tehran has been working on fuel
combinations, but it apparently has not been successful. The
fact that Iran has not succeeded in this area is evident in
Iran’s effort to seek this technology from abroad.

33. (S) The U.S. noted that it was significant that both the
U.S. and Russia assess that Iran is working on more-energetic
propellants, even if the two sides differ in how far along
they are. Russia responded that this is due to the fact that
Iran has not yet launched any longer range missiles. There
have been no tests, and statements from Iran that it has
missiles that can fly 2,000 km have not been substantiated.
The longest range that Russia has seen is 1,700 km, and that
was achieved only because of a reduced throw weight. If the
U.S. has additional data to share, Russia would be
interested. The U.S. agreed to look into the matter and
elaborate further at the next JTA talks.

34. (S) However, the U.S. also noted that modeling shows that
achieving a greater range is possible. Just because a
capability has not been demonstrated operationally does not
mean that it is not possible. Once a program has achieved
1,500 km, going a few hundred kilometers more is not that
much of an obstacle. Going from 1,700 to 2,000 km is not a
great technological stretch. Russia said it could not agree
because with a longer flight, various parts of the missile
could burn through, the missile could fall apart, or it could
go off course. It needs to be tested at its maximum range.
As discussed earlier, the U.S. believes Iran can achieve the
increased range due to a combination of increased thrust from
more powerful engines, a slightly reduced payload, and the
use of aluminum instead of steel.

35. (S) Russia disagreed with the U.S. assessment that Iran
has been able to buy technology to produce solid propellant
engines. Russia believes Iran continues to work on the
technology to mix and pour the propellant. This is a very
difficult process. Solid fuel has to be very evenly mixed to
work properly. It must be put into the motor case and then
allowed to solidify, and the resulting fuel must be
homogeneous. In addition, fuel loading is more complicated
for larger engines, and Iran has not mastered this. Russia
also believes Iran is experimenting with fuel composition,
how long fuels can be preserved, and how temperatures can
affect the mixture. Russia does not think that Iran has
solved the problem of thermal isolation of the engine from
the airframe, as the junction with the engine tends to burn
through. Russia also does not think that Iran has solved the
problem of thrust vector control and gas steering
technologies. The old technologies are not reliable, and
Iran has had a hard time getting
components from abroad. In addition, Iran cannot produce
high-quality spherical aluminum powder and without this it
cannot reliably produce solid fuel. Russia noted that even
Israel needs to buy ammonium perchlorate from abroad. Iran
has been trying to produce it indigenously, but Russia has no
information indicating it has been successful. In Russia’s
view, Iran appears to be having very serious problems with
engine development.

36. (S) The Ashura

Russia said that in June 2008, it had received information
from the State Department that within the framework of the
Ashura program, Iran is producing a 3-stage missile called
the Ghadr-110. At that time, the U.S. told Russia that this
missile is very similar to the Pakistani Shaheen-II and has a
range of 2,000 km with a throw weight of one ton. Testing of
the Ghadr-110 may have started in 2008, and Russia would like
additional information on this system. The U.S. said that
there appeared to be some confusion: the Ashura is a
two-stage solid propellant missile with a 2,000 km range, and
the Ghadr-110 is the Fateh-110, a single-stage SRBM.

37. (S) Sejjil

Russia asked whether the Sejjil was part of the Ashura
program. The U.S. said it thinks the Sejjil is another name
for the Ashura. In addition, Iran also has a short range
solid propellant system called the Fateh-110. The experience
gained from that program has been used in the development of
the Ashura and helps explain how Iran acquired the capability
to develop larger motors. In the 1990s, Iran received
production technology and infrastructure from China to
develop solid propellants. That infrastructure was used in
the Fateh-110 and now is being used as the technological
basis for the Ashura. While the U.S. would agree that a
larger solid propellant engine is challenging, Iran has over
a decade of experience producing solid propellant motors and
it got an important head start from China. Independent of
what Iran has since acquired, this head start allowed Iran to
develop the Ashura, which has been flight tested
successfully, and also to work toward longer-range systems.
Russia did not fully agree,
saying that the technology for an SRBM is quite different
from medium and longer range systems.

38. (S) Iranian Challenges

Noting that Russia had mentioned several problems with Iran’s
efforts to develop larger motors, the U.S. asked for the
basis of Russia’s assessment and specifically whether it
derived from the results of ground testing. Russia responded
that Iran is having problems generally because it did not
develop the technology in Iran and is trying to work off of
North Korean technology. The U.S. then asked how Russia
would explain
the Ashura having been flight tested twice successfully.
Russia said there is nothing special there as the technology
is all old technology as described in detail in the
literature of the Chinese Long March 4 engine. The U.S.
pointed out that the Long March is a liquid propellant
system, and the Ashura is a solid propellant system. If Iran
has successful tests, it shows Iran has built MRBM rocket
motors. Russia countered that all it shows is that Iran is
testing parts of the missile. Iran may have claimed success
but that is not the reality. If Iran wants it to be
reliable, the missile has to be tested many times before it
can be deployed. This is what Russia believes. Russia
understands the U.S. has a different point of view and this
can be discussed again another time.

39. (S) North Korean Scuds

The U.S. said it seemed that both sides had a common
evaluation of what types of short range systems North Korea
possesses: the Scud B, Scud C, and the new solid propellant
MRBM. Russia said that in 2008, the U.S. indicated that
North Korean Scuds were launched at longer ranges. Russia
asked for any specific data on these missile launches and for
U.S. thinking on why these systems are extended range Scuds
and not Scud C missiles. The U.S. said that it would try to
provide more information on this issue at the next round of
talks. However, it is known that there have been at least
two cases of North Korea helping other countries to develop
Scuds with longer ranges than the Scud C. One example is
Libya. When Libya gave up its MTCR-class missile programs in
2003, it showed the U.S. a missile it called the “Scud-C.”
However, it had a longer range than the missile we refer
generally refer to as the Scud-C. Additionally, many
presentations in the MTCR Information Exchange have reported
that North Korea is helping other countries, particularly
Syria, develop a Scud with a longer range. These
presentations have referred to this longer range system as
the Scud-D.

40. (S) No Dong

The U.S. thought that both sides had similar assessments of
the No Dong. Referring to the U.S. presentation from the
previous JTA talks, Russia noted that the U.S. said there
were seven launches of the No Dong in July 2009 by North
Korea. Russia has no information on such tests, and wondered
if there U.S. had been referring to 2006. The U.S. said that
there had been tests of the No Dong just after July 4, 2009,
and that there had been plenty of South Korean and Japanese
reporting at that time. Russia agreed there were July 4
missile launches, but of missiles with shorter ranges, not
Scuds or No Dongs. Given the confusion on this point, Russia
urged that the issue be revisited during the next round of

41. (S) UDMH

Russia asked whether the U.S. thinks North Korea is trying to
develop a new engine that uses UDMH. The U.S. said it
believes this effort is connected with a new system North
Korea is working on. The U.S. thinks this new system is an

42. (S) IRBM

Russia asked whether the U.S. has any specific data on this
system. The U.S. said it believes the system exists and has
been sold to Iran as the BM-25.

43. (S) Taepo Dong

The U.S. agreed with Russia that the Taepo Dong-1 was a
technology demonstrator that is no longer being used, and
that the Taepo Dong-2 has had two tests that have been
unsuccessful. However, there is not agreement on the purpose
of the Taepo Dong-2 system. In tests, the intent has been
billed as putting a satellite into orbit, but the U.S. also
thinks it is very much intended as part of the development of
an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Russia noted
for clarification that North Korea calls the Taepo Dong-2 the

44. (S) Russia believes the system has an engine with a 100
ton capacity that uses clustered designs based on old
technology, and asked whether the U.S. thought the Taepo
Dong-2 uses any new technology. The U.S. responded that it
has not seen any new technology associated with this system.
Nevertheless, one path to acquiring a longer range system
would be to cluster or stack engines for the new IRBM in the
same way North Korea used Scud and No Dong engines in the
Taepo Dong-2. Russia pointed out that so far this has not
been observed and there is no new technology associated with
an ICBM in North Korea. The U.S. agreed that no new
technology has been observed in the ICBM, but it has been in
the IRBM.

45. (S) Russia noted that in its presentations the U.S. had
given a range of 10,000 km – 15,000 km with a 500 kg warhead
for the Taepo Dong and asked how the U.S. had calculated
this. The U.S. said that for the 10,000 km range, it had
assumed a clustered first stage and a No Dong second stage.
For the 15,000 km range, it assumed a 3-stage configuration
with the same clustered engines and second stage.

46. (S) Taepo Dong-2 and Military Applications

Russia pointed out that the Taepo Dong-2 would be hard to use
for combat due to a lack of sites and its long launch
preparation time. The U.S. noted that North Korea could
mitigate those problems by placing it in a silo or using it
as a first strike weapon. These would not be optimal
approaches but if North Korea is sufficiently desperate, it
would go with the systems available to it. Moreover, North
Korea puts great political value on these systems. In the
wake of the nuclear test and the UNSCR that followed, North
Korea threatened to conduct an ICBM test. This is another
manifestation of the political value of this program for
North Korea.

47. (S) North Korean Path to an ICBM

The U.S. said it saw three potential paths for North Korea to
follow to obtain an ICBM: 1) use the Taepo Dong-2 as an ICBM;
2) further develop the technology for an IRBM based on their
new MRBM, in the same way the No Dong was a path to the Taepo
Dong; and 3) use the very large launch facility that is being
constructed on the west coast of North Korea to launch a very
large missile. Russia said that the first two paths could be
discussed at a later date.

48. (S) With regard to the third path, Russia wonders whether
North Korea is building the new launch site to avoid
launching over Japan and for safety reasons. The U.S.
responded that the size of the facility is of concern. It
does not simply replicate other sites. This facility is much
larger than the Taepo Dong launch facility. This is not to
say there is evidence of a new missile system larger than the
Taepo Dong-2 being developed, but it suggests the
possibility. North Korea does not spend money on things
unless they really matter. Russia noted that North Korea
does not have so much money, so it must economize. However,
Russia can probably agree that the new site is being built to
test new missiles. That said, Russia still thinks North
Korea has problems developing more-powerful engines and
accurate guidance systems. This merits further observation
and analysis.

49. (S) General Comments

Russia said it sees it as significant that Iran and North
Korea are trying to buy more materials abroad and trying to
get around existing export control regimes. However, each
country is different and Russia cannot say they are working
according to the same principles. On clustering, Russia has
a different point of view than the U.S., but will look
further into this. Russia also has a different view on
silos, but that can be discussed in more detail next time.
In short, North Korea is complex and neither the U.S. nor
Russia fully understands its capabilities. Both sides need
to monitor this carefully and work together on this issue.

Russian presentation of a framework for evaluatingmissile risks, dangers and threats; and discussion

50. (S) Nazarov said Russia believes any missile assessments
should be based not only on modeling, but also on
consideration of the real technical barriers faced by Iran.
Serious attention must be given to these technical problems.
Otherwise, we will use erroneous assumptions to evaluate the
problem. For example, we can count the number of
centrifuges, multiply by production capabilities, and say
Iran can produce enough uranium for several warheads.
However, this would not be correct because the models do not
take into account the technical difficulties in cascade
technologies that Iran has not worked out yet.

51. (S) In the same way, Russia thinks that when talking
about the Shahab-3, there is no possibility of Iran using
these missiles in a launch silo configuration. Also, Russia
does not see Iran increasing the throw weight or range to the
declared capabilities. Thus, as regards attempting to draft
a joint report, Russia foresees no problems in an evaluation
of the basic systems, but does foresee a difference in the
evaluations of the technical barriers faced by the Iranians.
With regard to timeframes, Nazarov said that if we talk about
real threats, and not just potential challenges, then we need
to think about all the systems that need to be developed and
tested. To facilitate this, Russia thinks the JTA
discussions should be divided into discussions on missile
risks and missile threats. The two sides should agree on
what these are and then work to prevent missile risks from
growing into missile threats.

52. (S) Nazarov then asked Vladimir Yermakov, Director for
Strategic Capabilities Policy, Russian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, to introduce Russia’s proposed methodology for
evaluating missile risks and missile threats. Yermakov said
Russia views the December JTA talks as the first step in
implementing the goals of the July 2009 Presidential Joint
Statement. These consultations build on many years of work
with the U.S. on missile defense, including missile threat
assessment, and Russia would like to underscore that the
dialogue and close collaboration on missile defense is due to
the positive decisions taken by the new administration on
missile defense. Russia’s official assessment of Obama’s
missile defense policy is that it is a step in a positive
direction. Russia commends the U.S. decision to drop the
fielding of missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech
Republic and replace it with a multi-phased program for
missile defense in Europe. Russia will only be able to give
its assessment of the new
project after it has seen the implementation of the first
phase. Further collaboration in missile defense will depend
on how the project will be developed on the U.S. side. But a
key part of our collaboration will be the joint assessment of
missile threats.

53. (S) Continuing, Yermakov said Russia believes that any
further practical cooperation on missile defense will be
based on a concrete joint assessment of the missile threats.
The U.S. and Russia need to have a clear understanding of
whom we are cooperating against and we need to make clear
distinctions between missile risks, missile challenges, and
missile threats. Russian and U.S. perceptions may coincide
and may differ, that is understandable. We can work together
to address threats we both agree on. But there may be
threats the U.S. sees as real and Russia sees only to be
perceived ones, and vice versa. In such cases, the extent of
our cooperation may be less or lower, but we can still do
something jointly to address these threats as well.

54. (S) Yermakov said that Russia sees as an end-goal of the
JTA consultations a document outlining jointly assessed
missile threats and challenges. Naturally, in working on
such a document, the U.S. and Russia will recognize that
their views differ and those differences will have to be
reflected in this document. We can take as an example our
record of cooperation within the NATO Russia Council (NRC).

55. (S) Yermakov then distributed a paper on a framework of
criteria for assessing the level of risk of a given missile
program. He explained that the material on the first page is
a graph presented in simplified form in which Russia presents
two categories – a threat and a challenge. In order for
there to be a threat, it is necessary to have two components:
intention and capabilities. Only when both components are
present does a threat become real. From the Russian point of
view, lack of either component makes the threat hypothetical.
When both components are lacking, the threat is only
“perceived,” and the threat of a nuclear missile strike is

56. (S) Yermakov noted that on the second page, Russia
suggests four categories: missile challenge, missile danger,
missile threat, and missile strike. Russia views a missile
challenge as an aspiration to obtain capabilities in the
field of rocketry to fulfill one’s legitimate national goals.
These goals can be a space program or missiles as weapons.
A missile danger emerges when nations envision in national
guidelines a doctrine that they could/could use missiles. A
missile threat is a more advanced category in which a country
has the intention to use its missile capability to further
its national military and political goals. A missile strike
is self evident. Yermakov urged the U.S to review the paper
and, at a later stage, provide an assessment of this
approach. At that point, the two sides can compare views,
theoretical approaches and assessments of threats, and use
this framework to develop a joint document of challenges,
risks, and threats.

57. (S) Nazarov thanked Yermakov for his presentation, saying
that he believed the U.S. and Russia needed to continue their
joint work based on a shared methodology. The methodology
proposed in the Yermakov presentation will allow us to
address challenges and threats concretely, and to overcome
differences of opinion. Nazarov said he did not see U.S. and
Russian differences as significant for a joint document and
thought they could be overcome. In this context, Russia has
prepared a memorandum with respect to drafting a joint
assessment. The essence of the paper is that the two sides
would work together to draft a document on a joint
understanding of the problems of missile proliferation. It
would be an assessment of the current trends, conditions, and
factors that make up today’s situation, and appropriate

58. Nazarov suggested the two sides agree on a timeframe for
drafting the document, which would lay the foundation for
cooperation and make it more dynamic. Russia thinks the JTA
work could finish by the end of 2010 and believes that
following this round, the group could come up with a draft
report and then work to improve it and flesh out some of its
provisions. Based on the principle of rotation, Russia also
thinks the next round of JTA talks should be in March or
April, 2010 in Moscow. Finally, given the sensitive nature
of the eventual final document, it should be treated as
confidential and only made available to third parties with
the consent of both our parties. (Passed over non-paper.)

59. (S) Van Diepen appreciated the thought put into the
Russian document and the invitation to Moscow, which he
accepted. He said the U.S. would study the paper and provide
comments at a later date. This will lay the groundwork for
productive meetings in Moscow. However, he also cautioned
that the two sides must be careful not to let process get in
the way of substance. He said the U.S. and Russia need to
share assessments first and then think about what to do with
them. He also said the two sides should identify the
differences in our assessments and the reasons for those
differences, rather than get bogged down in wordsmithing and

60. (C) Nazarov said Russia shares the opinion that the JTA
study has a practical goal. He said Russia is serious about
the problem of future missile threats and that the JTA work
is under the close scrutiny of the President of the Russian
Federation, who demands that the Russia side give an
impartial and objective assessment. Russia believes there is
a danger in over- or underestimating the threat as it could
prod us to move in the wrong direction. When it comes to
missile and nuclear threats, errors in estimation in both
directions are dangerous.

61. (S) Yuriy Korolev, an expert from the Russian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, explained that during a meeting in Budapest
in February 2008, Russian experts presented a collection of
interesting approaches on assessing missile proliferation
threats. Using that document, Russia thought one could give
a more unbiased assessment of missile threats. However,
there has been no reaction from the U.S. This may be due to
the fact that only limited numbers of the document were
distributed and they did not reach all appropriate senior
U.S. officials. Russia continues to believe this document is
interesting and would appreciate U.S. views, analysis,
comments, and proposals on how to make our efforts on
countering missile proliferation more effective. Russia’s
view is that the methodology presented would make assessments
of missile threats more impartial (handed over copies).

Russian presentation on the security threat presented byinstability and Islamists in Pakistan and discussion

62. (S) Korolev noted that while the focus of the discussions
had been on the missile threats from North Korea and Iran,
Russia did not think discussion should be limited to only
those threats from Iran and North Korea. In the Russian
view, there is another serious threat that should be
discussed: Pakistan. Pakistan is a nation with nuclear
weapons, various delivery systems, and a domestic situation
that is highly unstable. Russia assesses that Islamists are
not only seeking power in Pakistan but are also trying to get
their hands on nuclear materials. Russia is aware that
Pakistani authorities, with help from the U.S., have created
a well-structured system of security for protecting nuclear
facilities, which includes physical protection. However,
there are 120,000-130,000 people directly involved in
Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs, working in these
facilities and protecting them. However, regardless of the
clearance process for these people, there is no way to
guarantee that all are 100% loyal
and reliable.

63. (S) In addition to the Islamist interest in these
facilities, Russia also is aware that Pakistan has had to
hire people to protect nuclear facilities that have
especially strict religious beliefs, and recently the general
educational and cultural levels in Pakistan has been falling.
Due to these facts, extremist organizations have more
opportunities to recruit people working in the nuclear and
missile programs. Over the last few years extremists have
attacked vehicles that carry staff to and from these
facilities. Some were killed and a number were abducted and
there has been no trace seen of them. Also, even if places
are well protected, transportation of materials is a
vulnerable point. In Pakistan, it is hard to guarantee the
security of these materials during transportation. For these
reasons, Russia thinks Pakistan should also be a particular
focus of JTA discussion.

64. (S) Nazarov clarified that Russia believes the focus of
the JTA discussions should be the missile programs of Iran
and North Korea. Russia assumes the nuclear and missile
programs of Pakistan are regionally oriented and thus outside
the scope of the current JTA discussion. However, Russia
recently hosted a delegation led by Senators Hagel and
Harkin. The Senators told a meeting of the Russian Security
Council that Pakistan poses the greatest threat to the world.
Therefore, Russia would appreciate any additional
information the U.S. can provide on the actual situation with
regard to the protection, storage, and transportation of
nuclear and missile weaponry in Pakistan.

65. (C) Van Diepen appreciated Russia’s concern with Pakistan
and interest in getting further information but noted that
the issue as described is primarily nuclear materials being
acquired by terrorists, it is more of a nuclear issue and
less related to ballistic missiles. He undertook to report
back and facilitate a response from the appropriate office
outside the context of the JTA.

66. (S) Nazarov said Russia is interested in using all
channels to cooperate with the U.S. on this subject. First
and foremost, Russia is talking about the threat of nuclear
terrorism. If the scenarios include future development, the
threat of missile technology getting into the hands of
terrorists should also be considered. Russia would like to
put its concern on the record, and particularly with regard
to the possibility of Islamists coming to power in Pakistan.
Russia would appreciate the U.S. providing additional
information on the subject – perhaps at the follow-up meeting
in Moscow.

67. (C) Van Diepen said he would report Russia’s concerns but
noted that the U.S. response would likely come through
diplomatic channels rather than at our April/March meetings.
He also urged that Nazarov raise his concerns with Special
Advisor Holbrooke or his Deputy.

Russian presentation on FSB work to interdict Iranian andNorth Korean attempts to buy restricted technology, or totransship third party materials through Russia

68. (C) Anatoliy Raikevich, First Deputy Department
Director, Federal Security Service (FSB), said that both Iran
and North Korea appear to depend heavily on illegally
obtaining equipment and technology from abroad for missile
and WMD programs. The FSB has information that Iran and
North Korea both have programs to try to acquire Russian
technology. One of the basic tasks of the FSB is to prevent
them from acquiring WMD-related production technology in
Russia. To do this, the FSB takes action based on Russian
law and export controls. In particular, the FSB monitors and
takes measures to prevent WMD technology exports. This
includes criminal investigations of attempts to export
contraband and items on the prohibited list. Russian
analysis shows that that these efforts have significantly
reduced the achievements of the Iranian security services in
this area. However, the Iranians continue to try to use the
territory of Russia for transits and reexports of such

69. (C) A key effort of the Iranian services is the company
to company approach, whereby they use fake companies run by
the Iranian security service to procure Russian goods. The
FSB has set up sting companies to uncover Iranian activities.
In the past two years, the FSB has cut off a good deal of
the exports of such technology.

70. (C) The FSB has determined that Iran is trying to get
equipment such as measuring devices, high precision
amplifiers, pressure indicators, various composite materials,
and technology to create new missile engines from Russia and
from sources in Western Europe. To produce these items
itself, Iran would need to seriously modernize its
technological base. To combat this, the FSB must cooperate
with the U.S. and European security services. Russia has
many years experience cooperating with U.S. security services
and has moved from information exchanges to operational
activities. The FSB thinks U.S. services are very
professional and well prepared, and hopes cooperation will

71. (C) Van Diepen thanked Raikevich for his presentation,
noting that he had had lots of experience during the 1990s
working with Russian counterparts on the problem and trying
to reduce the success of Iran in acquiring missile
technology. Van Diepen said he was impressed by the people
in Russia working on export controls and appreciated that
Russia recognized that Iran is still trying to acquire
technology from Russia. He said he would pass on to U.S.
security services the FSB’s interest in continued
cooperation. He added that the U.S. would want to work with
Russia in those channels as well as in diplomatic channels as
the need arose to address specific shipments of concern.

72. (S) Raikevich replied that discussing these issues with
the U.S. will help Iran and North Korea to “boil in their own
oil.” He said Iran and North Korean may have small successes
here and there with procurement, but the FSB will see to it
that their successes remain small. The FSB is grateful for
information the U.S. passes along regarding various Russian
organizations that may be working with Iran or North Korea,
and wants continue to work together to prevent the spread of
this technology from Russia and other countries.

Concluding remarks

73. (S) Yermakov said that Russia thought the discussions had
been productive and cooperative. He noted that both sides
have significant homework assignments to complete before the
next round and can test the results at the end of
March/beginning of April. He then offered concluding remarks
on behalf of the Deputy Secretary of Russia’s National
Security Council:
– With regard to Iran, Russia believes the possibility of
improvement of its liquid propellant missiles is nil.

–It is impossible from the Russian point of view for Iran to
put a nuclear device on existing missiles with an improved
range and throw weight.

–Iran has no ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear
weapons at this time, and Russia sees no threat from missiles
in Iran.

–In Russia’s view, Iran presents a missile challenge.

–A missile threat would only develop if Iran seceded from
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and successfully
developed an MRBM with a 3,000 km range and a warhead of one

–Iran does not have the military-industrial capability to
develop such a program. If Iran could gain access to foreign
technology, it might develop such a program but this is
unlikely due to export controls.

–In any case, even with the assistance of foreign
technology, Russia assesses it will take Iran 6-8 years to
gain the ability to launch an MRBM with a nuclear warhead.

–With regard to an ICBM, Russia considers this purely
hypothetical and does not see the possibility of Iran having
this capability for the next 10 years.

–For North Korea, Russia assesses that its only real
capabilities are outdated missiles with ranges of no more
than 3,500 km.

–While it is possible to develop missiles with greater
ranges based on an SLV program, that would take many years,
even with a successful program.

74. (C) Yermakov said these were the basic conclusions Russia
wanted to make. If the conclusions are agreeable to the U.S.
side this could be noted. If not, they can be discussed
again at a later date and will be the basis for future work,
to continue successful bilateral cooperation. He said Russia
is not at all concerned about differences regarding various
aspects of these programs. Russia sees this as natural.
Having differences just means that we need to meet more often
and exchange information through appropriate channels.
Russia looks forward to a U.S. interagency delegation coming
to Moscow. Until then the two sides can communicate through
diplomatic channels or even just by telephone.

75. (S) Van Diepen thanked the Russia side, especially
Nazarov, for its thorough preparation and professionalism.
He said the U.S. was pleased with the interagency character
of the Russian delegation and appreciated that Russia had
given a lot of thought to both conceptual issues and
technical matters. The challenge going forward – as shown in
the contrast between the technical discussions and Russia’s
concluding remarks – will be to come to a greater shared
understanding of the issues. On the technical side, there is
a fair amount of agreement, but as we go up in range, our
views diverge. Based on common data, we have different
perceptions. The conclusions the U.S. would draw would be
different in each case from the conclusions Yermakov
outlined. That is not bad, but both sides need to work to
understand the conceptual and technical basis for these
views. There is a great deal to discuss, and we will need to
be well prepared for fruitful and informative discussions in
Moscow in the spring. The U.S.
will study the Russian papers and follow up through
diplomatic channels. The U.S. also will do its homework
assignments, propose specific dates for the next round of
talks, and be prepared for “our exams” next time in Moscow.


76. (SBU) U.S. Delegation:

Vann H. Van Diepen, Acting Assistant Secretary, ISN
(Head of Delegation)

Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary, VCI

Pamela Durham, Director, ISN/MTR

Kimberly Hargan, ISN/MTR

Michael Kerley, ISN/MTR

David Hoppler, ISN/MDSP

Steve Rosenkrantz, ISN/MDSP

Kathleen Morenski, Deputy Director, EUR/PRA

Caroline Savage, EUR/RUS

Michael Fogo, EUR/RUS

Joshua Handler, INR/SPM

Anita Friedt, Director for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation, National Security Council (NSC)

Daniel Menzel, Intelligence Analyst

Michael Barnes, OSD Office of Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia
Policy, Defense/OSD

Dimitry Zarechnak, Interpreter

77. (SBU) Russian Delegation:

Vladimir Nazarov, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security
Council (Head of Delegation)

Vyacheslav Kholodkov, Deputy Department Director, Security

Oleg Khodyrev, Senior Counselor, Security Council

Vladimir Yermakov, Director for Strategic Capabilities
Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Andrey Shabalin, Second Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Yuriy Korolev, Expert, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Anatoliy Raikevich, First Deputy Department Director, Federal
Security Service

Alexander Novikov, Deputy Department Director, Ministry of

Evgeny Zudin, Office Director, Ministry of Defense

Alexander Derevlev, Senior Officer, Ministry of Defense

Alexander Serenko, Deputy Department Director, Roscosmos

Evgeny Bobrovskiy, Counselor, Russian Embassy

Oleg Pozdnyakov, First Secretary, Russian Embassy

Vadim Sergeev, Interpreter, Russian Embassy


End Cable Text

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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I’ve recently had a debate with… let’s call him Marcus Stein, about whether you have to be proficient in a relevant language to hold really deep and insightful views about a region, culture or civilization, or whether, to put it in Averkoese, “translation, acquired knowledge (of the subject matters), good contacts (to interact with) and a good intuition (on the involved topics) are factors which successfully refute the above claim”. What do you think?

AK Edit: All old polls are gone because of this.

For what my opinion is worth (which is probably very little – hey, this post is a rant), I think it’s ridiculous to label anyone not fluent in his or her region’s language an expert. Can a neocon blowhard in the WSJ, who never studied Arabic or even read the Koran, whose only area of real expertise are the catechisms of American political science, really be considered an expert on the Middle East? Or is he just a risible Orientalist whose only area of expertise is the WESTERN CHAUVINIST view of the Muslim Other?

But what if said neocon politruk respected scholar is really, really knowledgeable on the estimable Western scholarship on his region? OK, let’s inverse the situation. Can an Islamist, fluent in Arabic and Farsi – and BTW, that’s better than our neocon who only knows English! – who has diligently studied the writings of Sayyid Qutb, Khomeini or bin Laden on the nature of America, be considered an expert on it? After all, through Islamist eyes, the US is a depraved beast that occupies the Muslim lands, aids the Israeli crusader state and supports corrupt, anti-Muslim elites in return for their petro-dollars. (I think this comparison is apt, because both neocons and Islamists constitute the nuttier elements of their respective societies).

The same applies to Western “experts” on other regions, such as China and Russia. I’ve written lots and lots on Western views of Muscovy, and will not rehash them at length: suffice to say, 90% of Western “expert” commentary on it, most of it from folks who don’t know Russian, can be dispelled by a quick trawl through a broad range of Russian newspapers and opinion polls that are readily available just a few minutes and mouseclicks away (and Google Translate, if necessary, in our technocommunist times – h/t @catfitz!).

I strongly suspect a similar situation exists in relation to China. I’ve become fairly interested in it China in the past few months, and having trolled through blogs like China Smack and China Hush, I was struck by the contrast between the rich diversity of life (and virtual life) in 中国, and the monolithic / Manichean interpretations of the Chicoms in the US media. Especially China Smack, which only translates Chinese netizen reactions – and this is a fair cross-section of Chinese society, since 28% of them are now online – to topics such as How Guns Are Sold In American Wal-Marts and Strip Shows In Rural Villages… It shows just how varied, cynical, patriotastic, critical, moralistic, trollish, etc Chinese netizens are, despite the тьмы, и тьмы, и тьмы of cyber-censoring “armies” that they are (purported) to have.

Now if it’s possible to find out that much – and that is much more than any two-bit unilingual neocon blowhard on the WSJ editorials page can manage – then imagine the sheer chasm between them and those who go further beyond the catechism. For the very metaphysical coordinates of a civilization’s worldview are organically formed and defined by its language; as a Russian (self-loathing) Westerner, I can attest to that. For the unilingual cultural “expert” is the most delusional of all people: Marcus Stein actually thinks he understands, without understanding. He lives in a Matrix and thinks he’s free. At least those who study foreign cultures and care to learn their language realize that that there are multiple Matrices, and can choose which one they are a slave to…

That’s the end of the rant. If you enjoyed it, great. If you want to nitpick or bitch about you, I plead insanity now, so don’t bother.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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I noted in my first post, Flare-Up in the Caucasus,

Even normally Russophobic media outlets, from what I’ve seen, cannot quite manage to spin this in an anti-Russian way (although I may have to retract this point, when the Op-Ed’s have been written up).

Well, I’m retracting it now. The propaganda model has been kicked into high gear in the West and turned squarely against Russia. Although it is acceptable for Georgia to attack Ossetia, with callous disregard for the lives of Russian citizens and UN-mandated peacekeepers (not to mention rumors of genocide), Russia cannot put a single plane over the territory of Georgia without inciting a chorus of condemnation from the Western hypocrites. (It’s totally OK in Kosovo’s case, but let’s not dwell on this uncomfortable comparison, at least for now).

Of course, expanding the conflict beyond South Ossetia is not only fully justified from a moral perspective, but it is also a military necessity. It would be stupid to allow Georgian armed forces to maintain perfect logistics and arrive fully-equipped, battle ready and full of morale, into South Ossetia. The fact Russia has limited itself to spoiling strikes against military and infrastructural targets and a naval arms embargo speaks of tremendous restraint, which can only be applauded.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, to see just how well the Western media meets its ideals of transparency and objectivity, which it constantly tries to push down Russia’s throat.

The Settings

Georgia is an ethnically heterogenous country. Ossetians are a separate minority, culturally, ethnically and linguistically, from the dominant ethnic group in the country. They were arbitrarily divided into two separate regions by Stalin. When the Soviet Union began to crumble, Georgia started asserting its authority, establishing Georgian as the national language in 1989 and barring regional parties in 1990. The Ossetians didn’t much like these Georgian nationalist tendencies and declared an independent republic. The Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (much-admired by Saakashvili) responded by abolishing South Ossetia’s autonomous status and sending in troops Tskhinvali in January 1991. Atrocities were committed on both sides and the bitter fighting left a thousand Ossetians dead and 100,000 displaced. Many of the Georgians living there were also cleansed in retaliation. To prevent the conflict escalating further, Russia pressed a ceasefire upon Georgia and an OSCE peacekeeping force was stationed in South Ossetia. Its composition was Russian since at the time the UN was short of troops.

Map of Georgia with its ethno-political divisions (note: Ajaria was
reabsorbed into Georgia’s fold)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the old passports were no longer legitimate and as such South Ossetians had the choice between a Georgian or a Russian one. Since Russia is a federation which affords its regions significant autonomies, whereas Georgia is a traditional nation-state set on imposing its cultural standards on all within its borders and which showed no compunctions about attacking the Ossetians, it is no wonder that the vast majority of Ossetians opted for Russian passports. (The policy of giving out Russian passports is not particularly sinister. Romania had a similar scheme with Moldova, and few accused Bucharest of wishing to annex their northern neighbors. The South Ossetians, on the other hand, themselves want to get into Russia for protection against Georgian imperialist pretensions.)


Mikhael Saakashvili got a scholarship from the US State Department, studied at American universities and worked at a New York law firm. Meanwhile, his Presidency after the Rose Revolution has been characterized by a highly nationalistic, Russophobic policy. It is thus no surprise that relations between Washington and Tbilisi have been extremely cordial since then, while ties with Russia fell into a deep freeze. (This is not to say that his predecessor, Shevardnadze, followed a pro-Russian course; however, he was much more cautious in his actions).

Georgian military spending has exploded to nearly 10% of GDP, while it has received military supplies and training from the US, Israel, Turkey and a few other NATO countries. Saakashvili’s reign has come to be dominated by militarism, aggressive nationalism and authoritarianism (explained away as necessary to thwart nefarious Russian plans to undermine his regime).


In early August, there were minor skirmishes between Ossetian and Georgian forces on their bordes. They always were depressingly common, and as always it’s hard to say who was responsible. Around 20:00 on 7 August, after an intensification, Saakashvili went on air and offered an immediate ceasefire and talks.

However, only a short time after, around 23:00, Georgian forces were moved into position around Tskhinvali. Russian peacekeepers noted this and requested an explanation, and were told they were drawn off. During the night and early morning, just hours before the Olympics, attacks by Georgia on villages in South Ossetia intensified, where Grad MLRS launchers where used. Georgia began a unilateral military offensive into South Ossetia, to ‘restore constitutional order in the region’, despite all its pledges to the contrary. Tskhinvali was shelled by heavy artillery, including the route along which refugees were being moved, before being stormed by Georgian troops. The continuous murderous bombardment has resulted in the utter destruction of Tskhinvali and as many as 2000 civilian deaths, as well as 12 dead and 50 wounded amongst Russian peacekeepers directly targeted by Georgian tank fire.

These casualties were pre-meditated, as the Grad (“hail”) MLRS system is designed for complete annihilation of unarmored area targets. Turning them against a city, especially the dense apartment blocks typical of Soviet urban planning that prevailed in Tskhinvali, would inevitably result in massive civilian casualties.

Georgian 122 mm multiple-launch rocket systems Grad firing at Tskhinvali

At around 3:00 on 8 August, a tank- and APC-backed land attack on Tskinvali was launched by Georgia, which met weak Ossetian resistance. Soon after, Russia called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, to no avail thanks to the efforts of France, the UK and the US. At noon, Russia committed land forces to South Ossetia and seized the air space above Tskinvali. Georgian troops retreated to the forested hills around the city and continued bombarding it intermittently.

Georgian Info-War

Georgia launched a war of agression. It committed area bombing of civilian areas and has ethnically cleansed around half the Ossetian population (at the beginning, there were around 70,000 Ossetians in South Ossetia; now, 30,000 have fled to Russia and a further 2,000 have been killed). No Ossetians, no problems for Georgian nationalism.

The war is also not necessarily bad for the Pentagon. While I still believe they did not expect this outburst, they will nonetheless get to observe Russian military tactics on the field. Meanwhile, initially more or less objective reporting in the Western media is getting swamped by outright anti-Russian propaganda in the ‘free’ Western press, above all on TV (for which the vast majority of the population rely on their news).

Because what do you get on Western TV? Saakashvili, with an EU flag behind him (Georgia is not in the EU) and in perfect English, spewing the crudest propagandistic bilge imaginable – along the lines of…

Russia is bombing Georgia, specifically targetting the civilian population.

Pot calls kettle black. Georgian troops massacred thousands of Ossetians on purpose via area bombardment. Russia limits itself to precision strikes against military assets and key war-related infrastructure. It is regrettable that some will miss their targets and kill civilians, but the key difference is that Russia did not intend to kill civilians; unlike Georgia.

Putin has told me that not only is my love for the West unacceptable, but also the path of freedom and democracy Georgia has chosen.

Actually what is unacceptable Mr. Saakashvili is your attempts to spread Western values of area bombardment, killing legally sanctioned peacekeepers, etc, to Russia. And if hospitalizing 500 protestors in brutal crackdowns and taking down TV stations is your idea of freedom and democracy, feel free to have it, just don’t push it down our throats.

We are a bastion of freedom in the world and this is why we are being invaded and annihilated by the totalitarian monster from the north. Stand up for your values, men of the West, and save us!

And I suppose killing thousands of Russian civilians had nothing to do with it.

This is a pre-meditated Russian provocation, look at the timing, the Olympic Games when humanity must come together, the Americans have upcoming elections, diplomats are on vacation – it’s the best time to attack a small defenceless country!

This sounds just about right. Except for one small point. Replace Russia with Georgia. Brilliant! For once, Misha, we totally agree!

We are fighting not only to defend our country, we are also fighting for the future of world peace and world order!

No comment.

Video of Saakashvili’s pathetic propagandistic bluster.

And so the Annals of Western Hypocrisy Go On and On, World and Time Without End

At the beginning, the Western media typically noted Georgia’s underhanded aggression against South Ossetia, but did not raise a furor over its bombardment of civilian areas. As soon as Russia intervened, however, it whipped itself up into a frenzy and declared all out info-war on Russia. The true cause of the war has been buried underneath newer texts sponsored by the Western elite and pushed on the mass media.

CNN: Headlines along the lines of “Georgia under attack as Russian tanks invade”. Saakashvili is the first commentator, whining in English about being a victim of Russian aggression, while showing Georgian Grad rockets being fired at Tskhinvali! Lots of interviews with Russophobic neocons. Say ’1600 killed in South Ossetia fighting’, without clarifying that those killed were mostly Russian citizens in Tskhinvali killed by Georgian artillery! Followed by Saakashvili talking about pre-meditated Russian attacks on Georgian civilians, to give the impression that it is actually Russia behind the huge civilian death toll! No ‘point of view’ appears from the Ossetian and Russian sides except their ominous-sounding announcements about intentions to “punish” Georgia, which is quoted out of context and serves to further confirm their sinister intentions to Western sheeple.

BBC: Russian warplanes bombing Gori and focusing on stray missile hitting apartment block (main target was military base). Headline is “Russian tanks enter South Ossetia”, sub-headline is “Georgia is fighting with separatists backed by Russia”.

British Sky News: Video of Georgian Grads firing on Tskhinvali under caption “Georgian side states that 7 of its citizens have been wounded in Russian strikes”. Followed by footage of T-90′s rolling into South Ossetia, ignoring that Tskhinvali is destroyed with thousands of Ossetians killed by Georgians.

The print media, unlike TV, at least has some golden nuggets of truth amidst the bilge (more intelligent people read newspapers, while the masses get their info from the box, which is more visceral and open to manipulation). This is far from universal, however, as the examples below demonstrate.

Times: Russia turns might of its war machine on rebel neighbour Georgia

Washington Post: Stopping Russia: The U.S. and its allies must unite against Moscow’s war on Georgia

The Guardian: Russian tanks roll into Georgia as cities burn, Standing up to Russia

Interestingly, the Western info-war against Russia has been noticed and remarked upon on Russian TV.


No wonder Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in a news conference on 10 August said that the silence of Western nations during Georgia’s initial incursion into South Ossetia “raises very serious questions about sincerity and their attitude towards our country”, and also accused the foreign media of pro-Georgian bias in their coverage of the ongoing conflict between Georgia and Russia over breakaway South Ossetia.

“We want television screens in the West to be showing not only Russian tanks, and texts saying Russia is at war in South Ossetia and with Georgia, but also to be showing the suffering of the Ossetian people, the murdered elderly people and children, the destroyed towns of South Ossetia, and [regional capital] Tskhinvali. This would be an objective way of presenting the material,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said. Current Western media coverage of the events in the separatist republic is “a politically motivated version, to put it mildly,” he said.


Control is all about imposing your view of reality on the minds of others. Since overt political persecution is no longer widely accepted, the elites have resorted to fighting wars over hearts and minds. Western media manipulation is not readily noticeable, since if that were the case the simulation’s plausibility would fall apart immediately (as was the case in the Soviet Union). Hence, they fight via other, far more sophisticated means. This makes them far more insidious and dangerous to freedom than any repressive dictatorship; for in the latter one knows one is a slave, while too many Westerners continue to be believe they are free, whereas in fact they are also slaves, like the rest of us.

As things stand, today the Western media are nothing more than craven shills for their neocon masters. Western freedom is slavery, as foretold by Orwell; the system itself is nihilistic, a reality that has become a simulation, as Baudrillard told us.

It is only through tireless exposition of their lies and hypocrisy that more truth and freedom can be attained.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.